Dental practice front office DOs and DON'Ts

April 30, 2021

By Angie Walters

For a dental office to be successful, it has to run like a well-oiled machine. All the working parts must fit together to accomplish a common goal and that can be an uphill battle. In an independent practice, this responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the dentist.

These responsibilities can pile up and tasks can get back-logged, especially if you’re running a busy practice. The practice’s front office staff can significantly minimize the amount of management work that a dentist has to do, but only if everyone is working together efficiently. This list of “dos” and “don’ts” can help you develop a successful and streamlined front office.

DO have enough front office staff, but not too much. 

There are a number of jobs that are expected of the front office staff, and in a small practice, there are usually one or two people doing all of that work. Not having enough front office staff can compromise your business. If your receptionist is responsible for scheduling, billing, and communicating with insurance companies, she may be overloaded and inefficient. This inefficiency can manifest in, for example, overlooked billing issues, and most importantly, unhappy patients.

Many practices, though, have too many people in the front office. Depending on the size of your practice and patient base, you may not need a staff member for each individual task. Hiring an efficient and organized receptionist and a detail-oriented medical biller may be all you need. It’s important to gauge how these hiring decisions impact your bottom line – too many front-office staff with not enough work to do results in a needlessly bloated payroll.

DON’T overlook record-keeping.

Dental practices must maintain meticulous records to stay in compliance with health regulatory boards, federal programs, and the Internal Revenue Service. When a busy practice is filled with patients, tedious paperwork can begin to pile up. Having a person (or people, depending on the size of your practice) in the front office dedicated to record-keeping is a great way to ensure that all of your records are in good shape.

The amount of information that a dental practice needs to keep track of is daunting, —years of patient records, billing information, and tax returns—so it’s important to be meticulous. Bad record-keeping can also affect the practice’s stream of revenue; a failure to maintain follow-up appointments with new and old customers means fewer patients overall.

DO streamline your business practices.

There are a number of services, like billing, payroll, and record-keeping, which can be outsourced to third-party companies. If it’s not necessary to hire full-time staff to manage your practice’s front office, consider hiring a receptionist to manage appointments and insurance payments only. A highly-skilled medical biller can be a great asset to a thriving practice, but their work requires extreme attention to detail.

Asking your medical biller to answer the phone, schedule appointments, greet customers, and keep the waiting room neat, especially in a busy practice, is overwhelming. If your budget only allows for one full-time employee in the front office, outsourcing some of the more difficult tasks can both be great for your practice, and maintain the sanity of your front-office employee. If your practice is large enough, consider hiring a firm that can provide outsourced CFO services.

DON’T forget to train your staff.

Some days, everything goes wrong. Your receptionist has the flu, the hygienist has a flat tire, and you’re running late. If one person is in charge of all of the front office responsibilities, a bad day can throw your entire office into chaos. If your staff isn’t equipped to handle a wrench in the normal routine, those responsibilities may fall to you. Trying to manage the front office and care for patients can be extremely stressful, so it’s best to have a plan B.

Your practice’s plan B should be that every employee – from the hygienist to the dental assistant – should be able to handle front office responsibilities if needed, such as taking payment and answering phones. At a minimum, they should know how to take detailed notes for when the receptionist or biller is back in the office. Cross-training is an important part of running an efficient dental practice, and can make a big difference on a stressful day.

The day-to-day work at a dental practice is extremely important to its overall success as a business, and keeping your front office machine in top shape can make a significant impact on your bottom line.

About Angela Walters

Angela Walters is a Partner in the firm’s Private Business Services Group.