Dividing Up Front Office Duties

What makes a great front office team member? The number one attributed skill is multi-tasking. I know it was one of the first skills I listed when I came into dentistry. In the front office, there are so many things going on at once, you need to be able to handle it calmly and efficiently. That means multitasking sounds like the perfect skill to have.

However, I have changed my stance on multitasking in the front office.

We are proud of our ability to multitask, but that is not always the best solution. The issue with multi-tasking is that you can do a multitude of things all at once, however you do them all in a compromised manner. It’s not possible to do multiple things at one time and give each thing 100% effort. In order to make us great at multitasking, you have to almost lower your standard to make sure that everything gets finished. Sometimes it’s necessary but there should be a balance and it certainly should not be the norm.

How do you avoid constantly multitasking in a busy dental practice?

Create an expert in charge of an area.

There must be clearly defined expectations and assigned responsibilities. In the front office, employees can do multiple things well, but certain employees usually excel at a few things. If an employee is an expert at something, great! Their job is to make sure that area is handled 100% and at the end of day it’s their responsibility to make sure it’s complete and correct.

Put someone in charge of overseeing the experts.

To ensure the above is efficient, there needs to be one person responsible for making sure everyone did their job and there is a checks and balances system in place. You’ve heard the expression a “fresh set of eyes” before and it really helps to have someone else in charge of supporting the team and double checking. Everyone is busy and so engrossed with the task at hand, it’s easy to miss a small detail.

How do you divide up the responsibilities of your front office team?

Begin by identifying where each team member shines. What are they great at and what do they like to do? Where do you see the most success from each employee? When a team member likes what they are doing, like answering the phones or ensuring the schedule is full and they are good at it, then assign that responsibility to them. Remember, others can help out in this area but one person is ultimately in charge to make sure it is getting done and done well. The upside to dividing the tasks this way is you have someone who really likes and is good at something in charge of those tasks. You are setting that person up for success!

The downside is it may be a bit confusing if what they are responsible for doesn’t flow well in the patient flow or there are tasks that no one likes to do and those are entirely forgotten. For example, someone might really enjoy answering phones and presenting treatment plans, but it is difficult for one person to do both – if you want both done well.

There is another issue when someone does not like to do a particular task like reactivation calls, but their job is to fill the hygiene schedule. In this case, reactivation calls are part of that job and if they are responsible for the schedule, they have to also be responsible for the role of trying to reactivate patients.

You can also divide tasks based on the flow of the patient through the practice. A common way that most offices do this when they are still small is one person is in charge of check in duties and one person is in charge of check out duties. That works well as long as all the duties that the front desk is responsible for are assigned to one or the other person. For example, where does reactivation fall into this model? You have to clearly define each responsibility of the front office team and make sure someone is assigned to cover every task. As the office grows, the job duties can be split up even further so one person is now only responsible for a portion of what they did before and the new person takes on the other part. When this happens and the team grows, you can use a combination of both of these approaches to divide. Split the job into two and then let the employee stay responsible for the part that they do well in and and then hire for the other part of the job. This approach works well because you can hire specifically for a personality and skill set that will be successful in the newly divided job.

The key to dividing the labor and avoiding hectic multitasking is to ensure your team knows what they are responsible for in the office.

It does not mean only one employee can do this task. That is not realistic, especially in a fast moving dental office. However, it does mean that at the end of the day, they are going to be held accountable for making sure the task is done and completed correctly. There are too many offices that have a team full of “busy” people but no one knows who is actually accountable for the results. To be effective, you must know the goal, have intention to complete it, and be responsible to make sure that it happens.

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.