Everyone cares about their teeth. Or at least, they should. A healthy smile shows that someone has good oral health, takes pride in their appearance, and is on top of their health and wellbeing. Any mouth that ticks these boxes will attend regular appointments with dentists and hygienists at a trusted dental practice. Well, the person attached to it will, anyway.
Creating a trusted dental practice takes work. Dental practice management isn’t easy. The most successful practices focus on patient experience. Everything they do is aimed at making their patient’s lives easier and less stressful. As, let’s face it, plenty of people dread going to the dentist.
From check-ups, to phone etiquette, to admin, every element of a dental practice needs to be streamlined for optimal patient experience. You’ll be competing with a number of other local practices so, to stand out, patient care, cleanliness, and efficiency are just the beginning.
Fortunately, technology like all-in-one communication solutions from RingCentral, can help dental practices rise to the challenge. Both in the world of COVID and lockdowns, and in the years to come.
This guide provides advice and guidance on the best practices when managing a dental office, with a particular focus on the patient experience, and how technology can help you achieve the levels of experience your patients expect. Happy teeth mean happy patients!
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Dental practice management best practices
- Important technology in dental practice management
- Common challenges in dental practice management
Learn how to run a remote-friendly healthcare practice with this in-depth playbook.
To reach and overcome the challenges of dental practice management, you must set your practice up with patient experience at its heart. The best dental practices work hard to meet and exceed patient expectations. So, what are the best practices that will help you to get there?
Communication is key in all businesses. It’s even more essential in the healthcare niche. Your patients are the most important aspect of your business, so it’s important for clinicians and other team members to be able to connect with them easily.
Clear, accurate, and easy communication is critical to optimal patient experience. When patients can always reach their dental practice and are never out of the loop, it helps ease anxiety about upcoming appointments and their care experience in general.
There are a number of ways you’ll communicate with your patients: face-to-face, over the phone, and via email, just to name just a few. Here’s how to improve communication in all of these areas:
To provide excellent face-to-face communication, it helps to be friendly, respectful, and attentive. The best way to improve face-to-face communication is to train all your employees, with a particular focus on reception staff. A receptionist often creates a first impression of the company, so they should always be polite, empathetic, and organized.
Today, face-to-face communication doesn’t always mean in-person interactions, either. Using video conferencing solutions such as RingCentral Video, dentists can easily provide telehealth sessions for patients who can’t make it into the clinic:
Those kinds of face-to-face virtual interactions can put patients at ease, and thus enhance the patient experience.
2. Over the phone
Phone communication is important, as it’s often how patients will make appointments. The best dental practices have top of the range phone systems often based on VoIP, which can connect to your current devices or via an app.
Using a cloud-based phone system gives dental practices a raft of beneficial features. They can transfer and record calls, put patients on hold, and more—all through one intuitive platform.
What’s more, RingCentral integrates with top dental practice management software and other tools like Sikka Call Optimizer:
These types of tools can help make essential patient and appointment information readily available to staff as soon as they pick up a call.
3. Via email
Emailing can be a great way to send appointment reminders or notify patients of any deals. Effective communication via email is polite, direct, and well written. Always ensure emails are proofread before being sent. Typos and incorrect grammar reflects poorly on the company.
4. On social media
Communicating on social media can feel new for many dental practices. However, it’s a great way to engage with leads and attract attention. Hire a social media and marketing professional to ensure that queries are responded to professionally.
Tools like RingCentral have helped a number of healthcare practices like PDS with patient communication. These cloud-based systems allow patients to communicate in whichever way they prefer (phone call, messaging, chat, and so on), making patient communication more streamlined and efficient.
But dental practices don’t just need flexibility. They also need:
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance to ensure that patient data is protected
- A speedy system that doesn’t glitch to keep patient communication up to scratch
- The ability to communicate via video for telehealth sessions
At RingCentral, we are able to make all of this possible. With RingCentral, all of PDS’ communications with patients are protected against unauthorized access. Thanks to top-end encryption, the dental support organization has HiTrust CSF Certification validation of compliance with HIPAA.
What’s more, RingCentral’s desktop and mobile app has both video and voice calling capabilities that are reliable and high-quality, with no danger of jitter or issues of latency interfering with patient-critical communication:
Improve the environment
A working environment is important, both for patients and staff. Employees will want to work somewhere bright, clean, and well decorated. Patients want the same.
This is especially important for waiting rooms, which create an atmosphere and are often the first thing patients will see. Patients might be nervous about their appointment, so waiting rooms should never feel dark or oppressive. Waiting rooms should have:
- Natural light but not too many windows. Patients don’t want to feel on display.
- Pleasant and neutral colored walls. Blue helps people to feel relaxed and calm.
- Magazines or newspapers to keep patients busy while they wait. Make sure these are up to date and are organized to avoid clutter.
- Leaflets to inform patients of any other services you or neighboring companies provide.
- Personality. While you don’t want to overwhelm with decorations, waiting rooms should feel homey instead of clinical.
- A water dispenser to keep patients hydrated.
- Comfortable seating. The comfier the seat, the less inclined a patient will be to complain if there’s a long waiting time.
A waiting room should be comfortable and relaxing. It should also be stylish and match your brand. Here are some more design and functionality tips from Eclipse Dental.
Alongside your waiting room, appointment rooms should always be clean and tidy. In a healthcare setting, hygiene isn’t simply an option, it’s a necessity. If you have received negative reviews due to a lack of cleanliness, this is the first place to start.
Flexible financial options
It’s no secret that dental procedures can be costly. The best dental practices have flexible financial options that allow different ways of paying. You might consider:
- Accepting cash, credit cards, or checks
- Payment plans
- Treatment plans
- Insurance coverage
- Special financing
- Referral schemes and discounts
How do these options help you? If you have a wide range of payment options, your patients will be more inclined to stick with you. Plus, they will be more inclined to accept treatment recommendations and return for regular checkups.
Being flexible around payments means creating a more trusting relationship between you and your patients. This creates loyal patients. Just make sure that you have policies in place for overdue bills, as you don’t want to lose out due to flexibility.
So how can you improve your billing processes? One way is to use a cloud-based system that makes sure that your dental practice is well managed overall and takes some pressure off other employees. Is there a better phone system that would allow patients to book appointments in flexible ways and automatically send text reminders about upcoming appointment dates and billing information? Options like this can help your billing manager to stay productive and focus on ensuring the payment processes are as straightforward as possible.
You’ve probably noticed by now that staying up to date with technology is key for practices looking to deliver superior patient experience. This means having the best tools and equipment available for dental professionals to use, such as mirrors, syringes, scalers etc.
Beyond that, though, it also means having the best management technology that can help your practice run smoothly. (And one that’s integrated with a good communication system will really make life easier for your staff.)
For example, a dental practice management software.
What is a dental practice software system?
Today, management software is essential in running a streamlined dental practice. A good software system will:
- Track appointments
- Send automated appointment reminders
- Manage patient records
- Create patient reports
- Collect data
- Connect with your phone system
It’s important to have the right software system to ensure that records are properly tracked and dental care is as efficient as possible. Software also helps to streamline the workflow and keep the dental team organized and up to date.
And, in addition to dental practice software, you’ll need a communication platform that makes phone calls and messages with patients easier. For instance, RingCentral has a cloud based phone system that streamlines the patient experience for dental practices in a few ways:
- Running telehealth video sessions with RingCentral Video
- Holding, transferring, and recording calls all in the app
- Dentists taking patient calls on their personal cell phone securely and without divulging personal contact numbers
- Flipping calls from a phone to computer (or vice versa) without interrupting the conversation:
These services rank your dental practice above the rest and ensure that patients get the best experience.
Essentially, software helps you make sure that you’re delivering the best patient experience possible. It creates a more organized workflow, from appointments to billing, and keeps all records in one safe place.
But which software system should you use?
Best dental practice software systems
There are a number of different softwares to choose from. Some of the best include:
Launched in 1989, Dentrix was the first dental practice management software for Microsoft Windows. It has advanced greatly since then and is now a cloud-based software that has solutions for practice management, administration, charting and imaging, and even group practices.
It has a free demo and hands-on training included in the package. It’s used by many leading dental practices and includes support via phone or email—a nice bonus. You can get a quote on the website.
Like Dentrix, Curve Dental is cloud-based, which means it can be accessed from any computer. This allows for excellent remote working options when you can’t be in the office.
It’s a favorite among many practices for this reason and manages scheduling, billing, imaging, and charting with ease. Pricing varies on the number of dentists at your practice, so you will need to contact the company directly for a quote.
Denticon is an all-in-one practice management solution that includes native analytics for real-time reporting and anytime, anywhere access to practice information. Released in 2003, it was the first cloud-based software available, making it a pretty ground-breaking program in the dental industry.
It boasts a number of excellent features, including modules for patient communication, records management, imaging/charting, treatment planning, claims management, and much more. You’ll need to contact them directly for a quote.
As with any industry, there are a number of common challenges in dental practice management. By following best practices and leveraging the right technology you can mitigate many of them. It still pays, though, to recognize the issues you may face when striving for the best patient experience.
The best dental practice managers and practice owners understand these challenges and know how to tackle them head on. Here are the most common challenges you might face:
The bigger a dental practice, the more challenging balancing appointments can be. Often, dental practices will overbook to avoid disappointing patients. However, this can cause difficulties, as there may not be the availability for all patients to be seen, and then they may leave for another practice.
The best practices find ways to schedule appointments while also allowing for urgent procedures. The only way to do this effectively is with fully unified software solutions. A cloud-based phone system integrated with practice management software ensures no patients slip through the cracks.
See how Dentistry Kids & Adults used YAPI along with RingCentral to see all patient and appointment details as soon as a patient calls their office. (Not to mention being able to send automated appointment reminders!)
No-shows and cancellations, therefore, can be made much less common, which can make a big difference. Dental Economics found that up to 10% of dental appointments are canceled every year. This can mean huge financial losses when you look at the practice’s bottom line. If a practice lost one appointment every day for a year, the financial damage would be between $20,000 to $70,000.
So, balancing appointments can be a huge challenge. It’s also important to ensure that the dentists aren’t overworked to prevent burnout.
Competing with other companies
What makes your dental practice stand out? Why should a patient go to your practice instead of the one down the street?
As dentistry is a lucrative industry, there will be a number of other companies to compete with. Patients are looking for the best experience at the best possible price. Dentist procedures can be expensive, and while patients want to ensure the job is done right, they might not anticipate the need for such a costly procedure at the time.
Competing with other companies also means having a good marketing strategy. The best practices might use the following methods to attract new patients:
- Social media platforms: Such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
- Email campaigns: These remind current patients about appointments and attract new ones
- A user-friendly website: This makes a practice easier to search for
- Hosting webinars and creating content: To generate traffic to said website or social media pages. At RingCentral, we provide a number of tools which help schedule, organize and smoothly host professional webinars.
Dental practices deal with huge sums of money every year. While you want the practice to be profitable, there can be a number of difficulties involved. The most common are:
- Tax issues: Dentistry is a high earning profession, with the average dentist earning around $125,000 per year. This places them in the 28% tax bracket, which can cause serious burdens on a dental practice. However, a practice must always pay the correct amount of tax.
- Managing accounts receivable: Sometimes, patients or clients are late with payments, especially if someone has had expensive and unanticipated surgery or dental services. It’s unavoidable, and unfortunately all you can do is to minimize the likelihood of that happening. There are a few ways to keep on top of your accounts receivable.
Make sure you have a policy in place for overdue bills. This should include a clear and standardized way of contacting patients. With a phone system from RingCentral, this is far simpler to manage.
Thanks to RingCentral’s integration with practice management software, you can contact patients with billing issues with little more than a click or tap. Then, as soon as the bill is paid or the issue resolved, your system will be immediately updated.
As with all healthcare services, patient confidentiality is of the utmost importance. You will have a huge amount of confidential data on file, which cannot be breached.
Health records and payment information must be stored safely. This means locked cabinets and password-protected documents. If you fail to meet legislative requirements like those set out in HIPAA, it could be the end of your dreams of practice success.
A dental practice with a breach in its data will lose credibility and damage its reputation. But it will also face financial consequences. For example, back in 2013, Krebs reported that Adobe had been hacked, and almost three million encrypted customer credit card records were stolen, alongside login data for numerous accounts. Adobe ended up paying $1.1 million in legal fees and $1 million to customers.
The takeaway here is that patient confidentiality is more than just important, it’s essential. It can be challenging to get it right, but it’s imperative that you do.
What is the role of a dental practice manager?
A dental practice manager is a busy bee. They’ll have a number of different responsibilities and will need to know their stuff. Essentially, a dental manager or office manager oversees all areas of the company, from staff training, to finances, to software. They’re the person who must be across everything we’ve discussed so far.
They’re the key to nailing the patient experience.
Thinking of becoming a dental practice manager? Here’s everything else you need to know.
What qualifications do you need to be a dental practice manager?
Do you need to go to college to become a dental practice manager? Do you need to have studied dentistry or some other area of medicine or health care?
The short answer is no. No formal qualifications are needed for the role. Many dental practice managers get into the role after being a dental nurse or receptionist. However, you could take a dental practice management course11 or a dental administration course to gain knowledge and experience.
While you don’t need a specific qualification, you will need to have a good level of knowledge in the following three areas:
- English and writing: As you will be regularly communicating with patients and other members of staff, you will need good spoken English. You will also be regularly crafting emails, so will need a good understanding of written English.
- Math: Dental practice managers deal with finances on a regular basis, so you will need to be confident with numbers.
- IT: A dental practice manager will be expected to organize the dental practice software system, meaning you will need to have a good understanding of IT softwares and systems. You may also be required to host webinars or use social media.
Typical responsibilities of a dental practice manager
Now you know the skills and qualifications needed to be a dental practice manager, what are the typical responsibilities? While the roles will vary between practices, here’s an idea of what most do on a regular basis.
A dental practice manager will be in control of most of the finances at the dental practice. This might mean payroll, taxes, refunds, payment plans, and much more. This is why a dental practice manager will need to understand numbers. It will be your role to try to keep costs to a minimum and generate revenue.
Dental practices tend to be small and don’t have HR teams. So, the dental practice manager also tends to count as HR. This means that it is their responsibility to ensure that all employees are safe and happy. These responsibilities might include:
- Training new members of staff
- Approving annual leave and tracking sickness absences
- Organizing team rotations and schedules
- Identifying staff development opportunities and courses
- Motivating staff and creating a positive working atmosphere
- Being available for emotional support
- Ensuring proper practices are being followed and investigating claims of wrongful behavior
Jobs and recruitment
Dental practices also rarely outsource to recruitment agencies. So, a dental practice manager is often in charge of recruitment. This means posting jobs and screening candidates. It’s important to ensure you hire the best staff and hire team members who work well together.
A dental practice manager will also be responsible for keeping the office organized and doing general administration tasks such as filing, organizing and replacing stock, and data entry.
It will also be your responsibility to keep an eye on the building and organize any maintenance that needs doing. You will also be the point of call to all cleaning staff, and should oversee the correct hygiene practices on premises.
Our tech-savvy world means that a dental practice manager needs to know computers. It will be your responsibility to oversee the management software, so you will need to be tech-literate and unfazed by new software and programs.
Most dental practice managers will regularly be updating spreadsheets, keeping an eye on software updates and ensuring that all tech is working smoothly. You will also need to keep an eye on health and safety—so ensuring that there are no loose cables that could cause trip hazards or faulty equipment that could be dangerous.
Most dental practices are small businesses. They compete with bigger businesses, and will need to have an effective marketing strategy in place.
A dental practice manager will most likely spend some time working on the practice’s marketing strategy. That may mean updating the website, posting on social media, or collecting and combining patient feedback. A big part of your role is to try to attract new patients to the practice and ensure it’s getting the attention it deserves.
Is it worth buying a dental practice?
Now you know what goes into managing a dental practice, you might be wondering whether buying one is a good option. There’s clearly a lot to think about before buying a dental practice. Here are some of the pros to consider:
- Demand is high. It always is. People will never stop needing a dentist. Unlike opening a shop or a cafe, people need your services instead of wanting them. This makes your business instantly more profitable.
- You won’t go out of fashion. Many small businesses open due to fads: a certain brand becomes fashionable and gets forgotten about in a matter of years. Dentistry isn’t a fad. People always have teeth. So, you don’t need to worry about your business going out of fashion.
- You have experience: Dentists looking to buy a dental practice don’t do it straight out of medical school. They work in the industry for a while first, learning about the business and gaining experience. So, when it comes to buying a dental practice, you understand patients and know what they’re looking for.
And here are some of the cons:
- It’s expensive. Starting a business always needs money. However, buying a dental practice can be particularly expensive, as you’ll need to buy the premises and then all the equipment and software.
- There’s lots of competition. While demand for dentists is always high, there’s also a lot of competition. You will need to work hard to ensure that your dental practice is better than those nearby, and find your brand. Take Dental Bliss, for example. This company established that many people fear going to the dentist, and created a luxury practice with a spa and pampering to make people enjoy going to the dentist. It’s smart. To be the best, you’ll need to be creative and think outside the box.
- You’ll need to know business. A dentist with their own dental practice needs to know business—or at least hire someone who does. You can’t just know teeth and gums: you need to know money, marketing, and margins. Essentially, it’s more work. Are you up for the challenge?
Take dentistry to the next level
All in all, owning a dental practice isn’t easy. Neither’s managing one. Whether you’re managing it yourself or sharing the responsibilities with a dental service organization (DSO), you’ll need to be organized, efficient, and know how to stand out. Sure, people always need help with their teeth. But do they need it from you?
The best dental practices care about their patients. They take dentistry to the next level. Every element of the process is streamlined; from the reception staff, to the esthetics of the waiting room, to the appointment. It might seem difficult, but dental practice and management is all about organization and understanding your patients.
Using cloud based systems from RingCentral elevate the dental experience and ensure that patients return to your dental practice every time. With our help, the patient experience becomes less intimidating and more inviting.
Originally published Dec 01, 2020, updated Jan 27, 2021