Experts warn against multitasking at work. According to Psychology Today, switching back and forth between different tasks too frequently can cut your productivity by as much as 40%. But for front desk staff in a busy dental office, multitasking is just part of the job description.
When the phone is ringing, the waiting room is full, two patients are waiting to check in and one needs to check out, how do you help your front desk employees prioritize? Making the wrong choice can cost you patients—and with the average dental practice already losing 10% to 17% of its patients to attrition annually, that’s something you can ill afford. Try these tips to put your practice’s prioritize on track.
Set your priorities
Before you can educate your team, you must set your own priorities. Figure out what tasks have the most impact on your practice, both long-term and in the moment. This will differ a bit from one practice to another, but in general, your first priority should always be patients.
Keeping patients happy is essential to enhancing patient loyalty, improving your practice’s reputation and getting more referrals to new patients. As a result, any activity that directly impacts patient satisfaction, care and scheduling should take top priority.
Beyond that, patients in the office should have priority over patients who are calling on the phone, emailing, or texting your office.
Train your team to triage
With patients as a priority, you must next show your team how to “triage” activities that are competing for their attention. That means constantly asking themselves:
- How will this task impact the day's schedule and production?
- What happens if I don’t do this task right now?
- What tasks will have the most impact in the shortest time?
- Which tasks can be automated and which cannot?
Your front desk team must be trained to think the same way you do when prioritizing tasks. Here are a few examples of how that might work.
Situation 1: You are on the phone with a new patient who wants to schedule an appointment. A patient enters the waiting room to check out and wants to ask questions about follow-up care. Which patient takes priority?
Answer: The patient who’s physically present in the office takes precedence.
Action: Ask the phone caller if you can place them on a brief hold to assist a patient in the office. Most patients will understand and appreciate this—they don’t want to be kept waiting when they’re in the office, either.
Situation 2: A new patient in the waiting room needs assistance understanding and completing registration forms. At the same time, a patient who’s checking out has a lot of questions about a bill she received from your office. Which patient has priority?
Answer: The patient who is checking in takes precedence, because he will have the greatest impact on the day’s schedule. If he can't complete his registration forms in a timely fashion, he won’t get in to his appointment on schedule, and this will delay the rest of the day’s appointments.
Action: Jot down the questions of the patient with billing concerns. Tell her you will investigate the issue and contact her with answers by the end of the day (or within 24 hours if that’s not practical).
Keep giving guidance
Once you've educated your front desk staff as to what their priorities should be, your job doesn't end there. Give them ongoing feedback about how well they are doing in terms of prioritizing. Praise them when they prioritize correctly. If you don't agree with how they prioritize a task, ask them to explain the reasoning behind the decision. Then you can show them any flaws in that thinking and how they should approach the situation next time.
You can also help your front desk team prioritize by providing daily guidance about that day’s agenda. What are the most critical tasks on the schedule that day? What absolutely needs to get done? What would be "nice to do" if there is time? (Get more tips on improving office productivity.)
You can automate a big part of the prioritization process with the right productivity tools. For example, Lighthouse 360 creates a daily task list for your team every morning, using smart recommendations. At your morning meeting, everyone should have the list accessible, and all you have to do is answer any questions.
By automating many repetitive administrative tasks, Lighthouse 360 can give your front desk staff more time to focus on priority tasks—like patients. Lighthouse 360 can automate appointment reminder messages and confirmations, patient recall and social media marketing. (Get more advice on patient scheduling.) It can even help you keep last-minute cancellations from slashing your income (with the average cost of a dental exam close to $100, two cancellations per day can cost you $1,000a week). Lighthouse 360 automatically detects last-minute cancellations and contacts patients to find a replacement.
Find out more about how Lighthouse 360 can help your staff properly prioritize daily tasks. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even achieve that sought-after work-life balance you've been trying to find since 2003.