Overcoming the dental staffing crisis
Unfortunately, there is no escaping the fact that there is a nationwide staffing crisis. But what does this staffing crisis mean for the state of dentistry? A recent poll by the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute (HPI) in August 2021 indicates that patient volume in private dental practices is up to pre-pandemic levels. This same poll uncovered that 32% of dental practice owners are actively seeking dental hygienists for their practice and 39% are needing to hire dental assistants.¹ These numbers are equally exciting and scary. Let’s dive into the process changes and culture improvements that can be implemented in your dental practice to overcome the dental staffing crisis.
Hire for office culture, not experience
Part of the dental staffing crisis is the inability to find experienced individuals to fill positions in the office. A common hiring mistake dental practice owners make is putting too much focus on the years of experience that the candidate possesses. Dental terminology, proper scheduling, treatment plan presentation — all of these can be taught. At the end of the day, the success of the dental practice hinges on patient satisfaction. Try turning your focus to some of the attributes of potential team members that will enhance your office culture and patient experience. Look for applicants that show:
- Positive attitude
- Clear communication skills
- Empathetic & caring persona
- Active listener
- Approachable & friendly
- Creative problem-solver
Once you hire your team based on your office culture, then you can shift your focus to nurturing your team. A team that will boost the success of your practice will have lifelong learning mindsets. Do you already have at least one existing team member with that mindset? Loop them into the hiring process, get their feedback, and proactively formulate the right interview questions to ensure you hire more team members that want to learn and grow with your practice.
You still need experience on your dental team
Even with the right office culture in place, you still need dental billing experience on your team. But you’re thinking, “I just overcame the dental practice staffing crisis by hiring for office culture.” Your patients are having incredible experiences, accepting treatment plans, trusting your team, referring to their friends and family… It seems like your practice is on the fast track to success.
So why do you need dental billing experience? There is a definitive level of trust that you give to your dental team to keep keen eyes and firm hands on your revenue cycle management, but that doesn’t mean that an extra set of eyes isn’t beneficial. After all, everyone is human. Human errors and mistakes aren’t uncommon but can delay consistent — and necessary — cash flow to the practice. This is especially true if you focus hiring on culture fit instead of experience. A large part of the patient experience in your dental practice is trusting that your team will perform the dental billing processes accurately and in a timely manner. Likewise, a large part of the success of your dental practice relies on the same.
Value and support employees
The most common reasons that a dental practice team member doesn’t accomplish a task is because he or she is unsure of the entire scope of the task, the desired outcome wasn’t clearly communicated, or the team member didn’t have the tools and support needed to complete the task. The tools needed to complete tasks look different for every member of the dental practice team, but here are a few major tools that all team members need to be most efficient and effective:
- A practice management software that matches the needs of the practice
- Up-to-date CDT coding guides
- Best practice and protocol recommendations
Don’t forget that when there are wins, you should celebrate them! No matter how big or small, take a moment to celebrate the wins that are moving your practice in the right direction. Celebrating these wins in your morning huddle is a great way to positively start the workday for your team. You can also use gift cards, gourmet coffee, team lunches — there are many ways to show that you value your team and want to celebrate their success.
Train and develop current staff
You’ve heard the adage, “People leave managers, not companies.” But is this true? Unfortunately, yes. Over 60% of people have voluntarily left a job because of their boss and not due to their position, responsibilities, or pay. What does this mean for you and the dental staffing crisis? Well, if you are a private dental practice owner, you essentially are the manager of your own small company. So you will want to take measures to ensure that you aren’t the manager that employees want to quit.
If you have hired lifelong learning mindsets, you can start by fostering those mindsets! Encourage lunch & learns, on-demand CE courses, leadership books, cross-training team meetings, etc. to help your team grow in their roles. If you see a team member that really shines in a specific area (e.g. treatment plan discussion), grow their role around that strength. When your team succeeds, your practice will succeed — and employees that feel valued and supported are more likely to remain in their position.
Have a hiring and on-boarding process
You may think that having a hiring and on-boarding process is less of a concern during a dental staffing crisis, but it actually holds more importance than you think. Hiring can seem complicated, even without a staffing crisis, but with the right processes in place it can be simplified.
Utilize dental industry experts
Certain daily dental practice tasks can bog your staff down and take up the majority of their time, so they feel like a hamster on a wheel. Dental teams have the incredibly difficult task of balancing patient care with regular daily tasks needed to ensure consistent cash flow. These shouldn’t work against each other, and this level of stress certainly doesn’t help retain a team during a dental staffing crisis.
The solution to overcoming the dental staffing crisis while still continuing to grow your practice is to outsource your dental billing processes to dental industry experts. This allows your in-house team to focus on what truly grows the practice, while your cash flow remains consistent. eAssist Dental Solutions is the nation’s leading dental billing platform that has the experts you need on your team to keep revenue cycle management consistent, dental billing processes streamlined, and your dental team focused.
¹Source: Dentistry iQ, Dental staffing shortage: ‘Huge’ struggle continues