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The office manager, also known as the practice administrator, is the quarterback — the “possibility thinker” in the dental practice. Possibility thinkers facing a problem or a change say, “We can do it, we just need to find the best solution to try first.” Jon Gordon, author of Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture (Wiley, 2010), writes that “Who stirs the pot matters. You can’t separate the soup from the soup maker.” In this sense, the dental office manager is the No. 1 ingredient for a well-run office.
Below, office managers and consultants examine how the role of practice manager has been changing and what they anticipate next.
“Patients will soon be showing their fractured tooth through Skype, versus trying to describe the severity of the tooth over the telephone,’” Deanna Alexander, Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Office Managers, explained about the software application that allows users to make voice calls with video over the Internet. Ms. Alexander is the office manager to dentist Dan Sadler, in East Lansing, MI. Keep in mind, Ms. Alexander has been with Dr. Sadler since 1976, when she was hired as a receptionist. Back in the day, she remembers the doctor being happy to have two patients in the morning and two in the afternoon. Ms. Alexander reminisced: “In between patients, he loved to sit in his office rocking chair, read the paper, drink his ice tea and smoke his pipe. The staff had to make sure we kept his ice tea refilled!”
Insurance forms were often handwritten before the electric typewriter came to dental offices circa 1970. Carbon paper was needed to make a copy of typed letters. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the computer was spotted in dental offices. “I will be replaced for sure!” was Ms. Alexander’s first thought when her office got a computer and Dr. Sadler told her to shop for a software system. Her second thought: “What’s a software system?”
Before email became popular in the 1990s, bulky envelopes of insurance claims and X-rays were mailed to insurance companies twice weekly. The response arrived the same way weeks later.
Today Ms. Alexander’s dental office is on its third software system. It takes only seconds to learn what a patient’s insurance pays, and it’s electronically transferred to the bank. She is responsible for HIPPA, OSHA and human resource and collection laws.
“The dental office manager position has come a long way!” she said.
Agreeing with her was Teresa Duncan, MS, a dental practice administrator in Falls Church, VA. “We used to just mail out happy birthday cards to patients; now we’re on social media,” she said. While she got her master’s in healthcare management, she thinks an MBA would be a plus.
The federal government has an initiative for electronic health records by 2014, so training may be needed for office managers to master compliance.
Doctors can help their new and experienced staff, she said, by budgeting for continuing education. “If you can’t afford airfare and hotel, pay for a webinar on Quickbooks and social media. They can distill and report what was learned to the rest of the staff. Not bombardment, maybe share one item per month.”
Doctors busy working on patients all day have a nagging worry: what is going on elsewhere? Debbie Castagna, consultant and trainer at The Practice Source in Corte Madera, CA, said this is exactly why a trained, talented practice administrator makes for a well-managed office. “Doctors are less willing to compromise on time spent with their families and other interests, so they want to be confident that necessary tasks are executed in an exceptional manner.”
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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