Dentistry has changed significantly in the past century, and the dental assisting profession has evolved at a slower rate. Gone are the days of ladies in attendance, and in place we have fully productive dental team members with various levels of expanded functions capability. Some states are more progressive than others, but, nonetheless, dental assistants are key to practice efficiency, and time is everything in this day and age.
Increased profitability is a direct result of efficiency of time. Life is busy and everyone is trying to find their balance between work and time away from the practice. Efficiency is a mindset and should become part of the practice culture. Doing something in less time does not mean running around utter chaos or not spending adequate time with patients. The quality of service that dental assistants provide regardless of the patient load (or full-moon phase) -- reflects the difference between an average practice and a top-notch one.
Efficiency can be based on several different factors:
Have an effectual dental team
Each team member knows his or her responsibilities and is held accountable. Nothing throws off team dynamics more than a team member who doesn't contribute to the daily workflow. Each team member should contribute equally because efficiency is key in the practice of dentistry. Since dentistry is undeniably a customer-focused business, it befits all team members to work cohesively. This approach provides patients with high-quality services at an efficient rate that allows an increase in overall productivity, making the team happy and the patient happy as well.
Delegate, delegate, delegate -- whenever possible
The most wasteful time in any dental office is the time when the dentist or hygienist performs procedures that a dental assistant could legally perform. The rock star dental assistants are generally happiest when they are allowed to perform at the top of their credential. For some, that is a license. For others, it may include registration or certification. Dental assistants love to utilize their expanded functions! Expanded-function dental assistants can do more services to increase the number of patients seen in a day. Training the team in the four-handed dentistry approach increases efficiency and production and also makes the team successful.
Involve your team members in the execution of treatment
The dental assistant is the most critical link between the patient and the dentist before, during, and after patient treatment. The person in this position plays a principal role in the successful delivery of treatment. Many patients feel more comfortable asking their unasked questions of the dental assistant, rather than the dentist. Allow the assistant to respond accordingly and, if the person doesn't know the answer, teach them. Cross-training is also a great way to ensure continued efficiency should a vital team member be out for the day.
Respect goes a long way
It can make the busiest of days feel like forever, or the hours can fly by quickly. The ability of the dental assistant to anticipate the needs of the provider in any procedure is a key factor that allows a practice to increase its speed in treating patients without compromising the quality of care. Practice makes perfect -- especially when working with some one new to the profession. Encourage and support Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification as a means to further career goals. Remember to treat your dental assistants as you would want to be treated.
Invest in your dental assistant and dental team
One of the keys to practice success is to have team members who consider themselves to be professionals and are interested in their careers. They must be willing to increase their knowledge base through continuing education opportunities, professional challenges, and involvement in organized professional organizations. Without the involvement and encouragement of the dentist, the practice will never have a rock star team. Continuing education, membership in professional organizations and licensure, and registration or certification renewals should always be part of the benefits package. It's needed for a well-rounded team member who contributes so much to the daily success of the practice.
According to the DALE Foundation's Value of Dental Assistants to the Dental Practice survey, 97% of dentists and dental practice managers agreed that effective dental assistants allow the dentist to move to the next patient more quickly. It takes a team approach to make it through a busy day, and your patients notice this.
Although we probably have never met, thank you for all you do and in supporting the dental assisting profession. I appreciate each and every one of you.
Natalie Kaweckyj, LDA, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAA, is a past president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) and serves as a senior moderator and key opinion leader for the Dental Peeps Network.
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