One Single Issue Divides the Front and Back Dental Office Teams

In a recent conversation with several front office team members, what I heard over and over is that there is a “great divide” between the front office team and the clinical team in the back.

What’s usually the cause of this divide?

It comes down to one single word—scheduling.

If you’ve ever worked in a dental office for just a few days, whether in the front or the back, you know that what makes or breaks any given day is the schedule.

Of course, some offices have other issues, but in most cases I can guarantee that the schedule is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

I know because I hear it all the time from both sides.

Dental assistants are thinking, “If only the front office staff knew how to schedule better, we would not be running around like crazy and we would be more productive each day.”. On the flip side, the front office team is thinking, “If only the dental assistants would work faster we would never run behind.”.

It’s a double-edged sword, really, because until you step back and really look at the issue, this will never get fixed.

What’s the real issue? It’s not the front or the back that’s to blame. The problem is the schedule itself.

Let’s look at that in more detail. We’re building schedules that are unrealistic and hectic.

What tends to happen is that we throw appointments into the schedule in any slot where they seem to fit, but without considering whether it’s the right slot for that type of appointment. As long as we do this, there will always be a divide between team members in the front and the back.

So, how do we fix this chronic scheduling problem?

I offer three key suggestions for bridging the schedule divide.

First, if you’re booking appointments without regard to a realistic time assessment, you are setting up a schedule that will never run on time.

The best way to fix this is to do a time study. Keep track of each and every appointment in your office over a two-week period.

At the end of the time study, note the length in minutes for each procedure that you did, and then figure the average length of that procedure based on those numbers. What this does is tell you on average how long it takes to do a specific procedure.

Now you’ll have a realistic assessment of the amount of time that needs to be scheduled for each procedure that your office does.

Next, you need to bring your team together and make a plan.

Have a staff meeting where you focus on drafting a scheduling policy.

We know that things happen every day to disrupt the schedule, such as patients running late, emergency patients needing to be seen, the doctor running behind with a procedure, and more.

If we know that this type of stuff happens on a regular basis, why not make a plan for it instead of letting it wreak havoc on the schedule?

Sit down as a team and decide what the policy will be for each of these scenarios, plus all of the other issues that arise throughout the day that cause schedule delays. Once there’s a decision of how these situations should be handled, write them down. Write out every issue and the new office policy for handling it, and then post these policies for the whole team to see.

Now, I want to mention that it is very important to be clear about the purpose of this meeting from the very start.

The intent of this meeting is to make decisions on how these things can be handled, not to bring up past problems and point fingers. Someone with good meeting control needs to make sure the meeting stays on track and does not turn into a complaint session.

Keep a matter-of-fact focus on what the scheduling issues are and how to handle them.

Finally, make sure your employees stay in good communication about the schedule as changes occur.

For example, in the morning huddle, discuss the day ahead and the schedule as planned.

Have an environment of teamwork where the employees can discuss areas in the schedule where more collaboration might be needed because it might get a little hectic.

Identify good places in the schedule to handle emergencies if they call in, so as not to stress out the dental assistants or make the schedule fall apart.

If there are times where things don’t go smoothly, always refer back to the policy your office developed and remind everyone to follow it.

Inevitably, there will be undiscussed scenarios that arise. Just continue to address them with new policies as needed and add all policies to the master policy document that’s posted.

The best thing you can do to bring the front and back teams together is to look for proactive ways to remedy the schedule as needed. That way, you’ll make sure that the schedule runs smoothly, and everyone can go home happy and feeling good about the day.

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.