With its ringing phones, bustling hygienists and busy waiting room, a dental practice can be a high-energy place. But when that energy turns to excess stress, it can lead to burnout. As many dental practices face a shortage of qualified employees in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing stress at your practice can be key to boosting your staff’s job satisfaction and retaining qualified employees. What can you do to make your work environment less stressful?
Stress and the dental profession
The number-one career concern of dental office managers is burnout, according to a FutureDontics survey. There are several reasons stress is common in dental practices. Dentistry tends to attract people who are perfectionists. Success requires keeping to a rigid time schedule to attain production goals, while also following strict hygiene and infection control procedures. But the schedule needs to accommodate patients who may show up late or forget appointments. Dealing with insurance companies can be time-consuming and frustrating. Add it all up, and you have the recipe for a real stress-fest.
The pandemic has only worsened the problem. Dental professionals and their office staff are being asked to do more with less while dealing with the additional anxiety of COVID-19. Healthcare workforce “burnout” tends to increase significantly following infectious outbreaks like COVID-19, notes Holly Anne Mitchell, a leadership trainer and consultant specializing in dental practices.
“It’s a real challenge in our industry,” agrees Brandi Hooker Evans, owner of dental consultancy Stellar Outcomes LLC. “People are burning out and leaving the industry or burning out in one office and looking elsewhere for another dollar an hour.”
To stress less, try communicating more
“Step one in managing work stress is to acknowledge that it is there and try to get to the root of the problem,” says Evans. “For example, if the problem seems to be that team members aren’t getting along, we can utilize grace and compassion for one another.”
Because dentistry tends to attract people who are conflict-avoidant, problems tend to fester, adding to the stress. Learning better communication skills can help, says Evans, as can getting a clearer picture of the stress each of your coworkers is facing.
“My favorite trick is to list everyone on the team’s name and write down their usual tasks,” she explains. “Every day, have each team member do someone else’s job for one of those tasks.”
For example, a hygienist can answer the phone and schedule a patient; the office manager can seat a patient and take a blood pressure reading; a dental assistant can tidy up the waiting room; and a doctor can turn over a dirty room.
While this may solution sound too simple, Evans promises that trying it will transform your team culture. “When you have a great day at work with your team, burnout subsides very quickly,” she explains.
Stepping into each other’s shoes can also help foster a culture of collaboration. “Make it a habit to ask for help and offer help to others,” says Holly Anne Mitchell, a leadership trainer and consultant specializing in dental practices. Helping others is proven to promote social bonds and increase production of endorphins, mood-boosting brain hormones, she explains.
Use technology to prevent burnout
Improving your office’s systems and processes can also help to reduce stress by reducing the need to multitask. Multitasking has been shown to have negative mental and physical effects such as increasing stress and anxiety, reducing efficiency and making it harder to stay calm and focused, notes Mitchell. But having a million “to-do” items on your mind is all in a day’s work for the front desk staff, or the “human octopus,” as Mitchell says.
Lighthouse 360’s Daily Task List remembers those tasks for you, freeing your mental energy for greater efficiency. Every morning, the software reviews records for all the patients scheduled that day and generates a list highlighting key issues that need to be addressed, such as outdated contact information or family members needing recall. Front desk staff can simply check the list and take the recommended actions.
Lighthouse 360 also generates a daily Accountability Report that recaps accomplishments from the day before and spotlights any areas that need work. You can use this report to celebrate successes and continually improve performance.
Phone tag—a common stressor in dental practices—can be a thing of the past with Lighthouse 360’s automated patient communication features. Set the software to automatically handle appointment reminders and confirmations, patient recall and patient reactivation by sending customized messages. Choose email, text or phone messages based on the patient’s preferences.
At Elm Park Dental in Winnipeg, Canada, Managing Partner Nancy Cooke remembers when her staff used to manually comb through records to identify patients needing recall. Now, Lighthouse 360 does it all, working in the background to automatically identify patients that need to be contacted and generate reminder emails.
Two-way texting with patients, which you can do directly from the Lighthouse 360 portal, saves several hours a week at Canmore Downtown Dental in Calgary, Canada. “Patients respond so much faster to text [than phone calls],” says Andrea Rankin, Administrator and Hygiene Coordinator.
Frantically flipping through your waiting list and making phone call after phone call to find a replacement patient after a last-minute cancellation can stress anyone out. The Fill-in feature of Lighthouse 360 eliminates this task by automatically finding last-minute cancellations, contacting patients who have expressed interest, and filling the empty appointment time.
On average, Lighthouse 360 clients report the software saves them 16.8 hours per week. Why not hand off some of your work to a partner who’ll never burn out?
Looking for more strategies to improve and maintain mental health for yourself, your team and your patients? Lighthouse 360 is sponsoring Holly Anne Mitchell and Brandi Hooker Evans’ free 90-minute course, “Mental Hygiene,” Wednesday, June 30, 2021 at 4:30 PM Pacific/7:30 Eastern. Sign up now to reserve your (virtual) seat.