Is understaffing hurting your practice profits?

By James Anderson, DMD, DrBicuspid contributing writer

March 3, 2020 -- Overhead management is the business side of dentistry that we, as clinicians, want to give to others who have more experience in making the decisions regarding hiring the proper staff. As CEO of solo or small group practices, we must face the music and realize that the "buck stops here" with us, the owners of our business. We get opinions and weigh the pros and cons, but the decision is ours to own -- along with the results of our choices.

Dentists often wonder whether they have too many staff members or not enough. While it is true that being overstaffed means your overhead costs exceed the margins and bring down profitability, having too few people limit the practice's ability to give top service and grow the business.

James Anderson, DMD
James Anderson, DMD.

Being understaffed can lead to dire situations when key staff members are ill or need to take a vacation or another leave of absence. In many cases, there may be just one person who "does it all" and is virtually irreplaceable at any time. Understaffing leads to overtime costs because there aren't enough helpers to ensure that the day can end on time.

If you are in a bind and need help, temporary services can fill the opening, but that also brings issues that lead to more spending. Paying agency fees and the interim can cost more than you pay your employees for the day. Temporary workers need some training or they will "fly by the seat of their pants," making errors along the way. Sometimes just having a "warm body" is more trouble than it is worth.

Understaffing puts more pressure on workers to move faster and not get breaks or lunch sometimes. If patients need a financial arrangement or treatment presented in private, there isn't enough time, and they are often ushered out the door with, "I will email the treatment plan and call you about the financial arrangement." This is a worst-case scenario for treatment acceptance/production and collections, the lifeblood of the practice.

When all the team is too busy with the daily schedule and putting out fires, there is little to no time to explore opportunities for practice growth and improvement. Time to discuss new technologies and marketing to keep the practice up to date and visible on social media and in the community is just not there.

Here are four ways to find relief in understaffing situations:

  1. Cross-train the entire team. Everyone should be able to help in areas that don't require specialized training or licensing, such as checking in a patient, checking out a patient, setting up a treatment room, or collecting money at the desk or presenting treatment options.
  2. Check peak times for the practice and make sure to have adequate qualified people to help. These are the days you have more than one provider and more than one hygienist with a count of 40 or more patients.
  3. Outsource. Outscoure insurance billing and patient billing to a professional, highly recommended service paid from a commission from collections.
  4. Talk and plan. Meet with the team to discuss how to tighten up the schedule to eliminate roadblocks and overscheduling that leads to an overworked team and stressed-out patients. Ensure that all staff members get a nutrition break and a little private time.

With some forethought and balance to the daily workings of the practice, you should be able to have the right staffing for your unique and exceptional working environment.

James Anderson, DMD, is a practicing dentist in Syracuse, UT, and is the CEO and founder of eAssist Dental Solutions. He can be reached via email.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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