Let’s explore these scenarios with a cross-trained team and systems that are in place for days like this.
It begins with the creation of a team of individuals who are not only exceptional in their specific job functions and customer service, but also open to personal growth and delivering optimal patient care.
This ultimate team of individuals takes pride in what they bring to the success of the practice, and they are willing to help each other when the unexpected happens (and it will)!
When the unexpected happens!
Doctor, you arrive at the office to a full and productive day. There are two hygienists, two assistants, and two admin team members, and the day is starting off great!
The restorative schedule is timed precisely for one doctor and two assistants. The two hygienists are 90% full and the administration team has a full day ahead. Your telephone rings thirty minutes before your day starts. One of your assistants is sick and needs to stay home today! Your heart sinks!
Today’s schedule was created utilizing a perfect overlap of doctor/assistant time. Now you wonder: who will we reschedule, and how will these changes affect my patients and the bottom line? Your perfectly-scheduled day is now in jeopardy!
The cross-trained team to the rescue
BUT WAIT…your administration team is cross-trained in sterilization, set-up, and breakdown of the treatment rooms, and each of them has basic assisting skills.
The hygienists are trained in basic administration functions such as properly answering the telephone, scheduling an appointment, collecting payment and submitting an insurance claim correctly. They can also assist the doctor with restorative procedures.
WOW! The morning huddle just became charged with excitement as the options are discussed to best care for your patients, your schedule and your production! Let’s see how a cross-trained team can save the day!
One administration team member will assist the doctor and remaining assistant with the restorative schedule. Everyone will help the administration area during any open time in their schedule and assist with the turnover of treatment rooms and sterilization. No patient will need to be rescheduled and production is not affected.
Your patients all receive the exceptional care they deserve and at the end of the day, the team goes home happy, knowing they did a fantastic job covering for their sick teammate!
How can we get our practice working like this, you wonder?
We just don’t have the time to cross-train!
“We are too busy to train everyone in ‘other’ job functions.”
“The hygienists are not going to be happy checking out their patients, collecting money, submitting an insurance claim, or answering the telephone.”
“The administration team is far too busy to worry about treatment room and instrument sterilization, let alone learn how to do basic assisting.”
“Assistants are not thrilled about answering the telephones, scheduling appointments and asking for money.”
When can all this training take place, you ask? There’s never any time to spare in the schedule! Doctor, you don’t feel good about paying a hygienist to do administrative job functions! There’s no way this can work!
Admit it, the arguments against cross-training could go on and on.
How about embracing the perspective from the patients’ point of view? Patients put their trust in the doctor and team members. Patients can become nervous when a temp, someone “new”, is caring for them. Any temporary staff member you hire is unfamiliar with your practice, your procedures, your processes, and your patients. The patient may decide not to come back if they have a poor experience with a temp; or worse, they might leave and write a poor review, or tell their friends about the poor experience.
Patients are far more forgiving if a team member they already know steps in to help. This often leads to friendly conversation, and the atmosphere in the office continues to be positive.
I am not suggesting that you should never hire a temp in your office. If a hygienist (a producer) is out, you need someone to cover them and continue to produce for the practice.
Having written systems on practice management training and how your practice delivers care to your patients will help any temporary hygienist to provide care at the standard to which the patient has become accustomed. This temp will think your office is amazing!
Practical tips for cross-training team members
Let’s explore how to cross-train your team members without jeopardizing their day and causing unnecessary stress.
Create written documents for the procedures that are performed in each area of the office. This is not meant to be done in one day. Change takes time, and the challenging work at the beginning of any project will make the process easier in the end.
- Create documents for procedures performed in your practice. Endo, crown prep and insert, fillings, extractions and so on.
- Create maintenance documents for the sterilization equipment and lab equipment.
- Take pictures of instrument trays that are set up and labeled for each procedure.
- Keep a folder of these documents and photos and be sure to review and update every time you introduce a new material or procedure.
- Label the storage areas in your lab and sterilization rooms with the contents, making it easy to find items.
- Create documents for daily, weekly and monthly office manager how-tos that absolutely need to be done in your absence.
- Create documents for answering the telephone, what to say and do if a new patient calls, check-in and check-out of patients, how to properly enter a treatment plan, the proper way to ask for money, how to schedule appointments, and how to start and end the day.
- Make a list of reports that need to be run, calls that should be made; delineate how recare is handled, and how and when courtesy calls are performed.
- Create documents for the proper sterilization and care of your instruments. Do you use lasers? If so, how are they cared for?
- Set aside time during your weekly or monthly team meetings to cover one or two processes from each of the three areas of your practice: administration, hygiene and clinical.
- Demonstrate administration processes in the administration area, and clinical in a clinical room.
These “field trips” will help visually in the training process. People learn differently. Having documentation as well as visual learning will benefit everyone on the team.
If there are times in your day to cover one process, one document, perform one new function—take the time and do it. Ask if you can process that credit card for the patient, or assist with that crown prep while they observe; help hygiene with sterilization and turn over of their room, etc.
The most effective time to cross-train is ALL THE TIME! The Ultimate Cross-Trained Team isn’t created overnight. Time, training, practice, and enthusiasm to help each other—and most importantly, to help the patients!—are the building blocks to reaching your Team’s full potential! It all starts with a system!
Note: Be sure to check the dental assisting laws for your state. There are some states that only allow a Certified DA to work in the back. Also, radiology licensing is required to take x-rays. Be sure to have a licensed DA, a hygienist or a doctor take any necessary radiographs.
Meet the Author
Kelly Lynch is a Lifetime Member, Ambassador, Fellow of AADOM (FAADOM), and was awarded Practice Administrator of the Year in 2016. She’s managed dental offices for over 23 years, spent 10 years in retail management, and worked two years in hospital registration/scheduling management.
Kelly founded “Platinum Practice Solutions” and provides coaching on SYSTEMS, communication skills, and team cross-training. Kelly has been speaking to various study clubs all over New England and loves sharing her knowledge with others.