Why cross-training is important for your practice

By Claudia LaSmith, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

November 25, 2020 -- I manage a family practice in Cary, NC, which is owned and operated by one doctor. The foundation of the office could be considered "old school," but all executions and business ideas are futuristic. When I say, "old school," I mean we treat all employees and patients with respect, and we believe if you treat everyone right, the practice will thrive and grow. If patients like the practice and the people in it, then the business will grow by word-of-mouth advertising.

Who you are is your brand, and you have to stay true to your business philosophy. I recommend understanding who you are and what you want out of your practice before choosing your team. It's the team you surround yourself with that makes the brand and makes the practice what it really is, successful or unsuccessful. Why not make sure you have team members who have a good understanding of both the clinical and administrative side of dentistry? Ideally, what would happen if you looked for people who want to evolve and have career growth and opportunities in your practice, and possibly even a forever team? When I started my career in the dental field, I was a dental assistant and would have loved hearing an employer within the dental office say, "You have room for growth here and a lot of potential." Later in my career, I would find that.

Claudia LaSmith
Claudia LaSmith.

What if I could be a dental dynamo? What if I was able to understand both the clinical and business aspects of the industry? What if I put the knowledge of both together and became an amazing dental leader? Understanding both is key to your dental team's success.

Examples of cross-training are copay collections, sterilization, flipping rooms around, answering the phone, and scheduling, as well as knowledge of treatment plans and insurance coverage. Having enough knowledge to help with a smooth transition from the clinical to the administrative team is a must.

When we hire a new employee in our practice, we don't look for him or her to understand only one aspect of the office. Instead, we look for qualities and aspirations outside of what he or she knows. We look for people who are driven to be the best and who constantly strive for personal improvement. When you look outside the box, you can often find amazing candidates.

In our office, all administrative team members not only handle the business end of things but can also transfer into the clinical end if needed. An example would be that they can do sterilization tasks and work administratively to collect a copay or go over a treatment plan. This must be executed and managed properly, but it can be done seamlessly with the proper training.

The level of respect and lack of frustration patients show our team members when they collect money is amazing. Sometimes the patient sees the same person who worked with him or her in the back turn around and also collect payment. You have now given your patient a message: "We care about your dental health and now are educated in understanding your insurance." Our entire team, at any point in the day, will help each other by flipping around a room quickly if needed. I call that the "we team."

Candidates are often told to dress for the job they want. However, I say hire for the job you believe they can do. The more you empower and teach your team members, the more they will become responsible, know they are trusted, and, individually, be a stronger team member overall. In turn, this helps to make you a very successful practice. What we know is that a happy team is a successful one and that helps the dentist ultimately have a practice that patients will come back to and team members who will stay for the long term.

One of the positives I have learned from cross-training is that if an employee is out of the office for any reason, you won't necessarily be short-staffed or nearly as stressed out because you have personnel that can be "plugged in" wherever they are needed. Now one of the assistants can cover the front of the office because he or she was taught to schedule and work with insurance.

It is also an amazing thing to have hygienists who are comfortable enough to work with insurance, check patients out, and schedule treatments. Doing this creates an environment of team and support. It makes everyone's day better because each person has an understanding of the other's job.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is to be prepared. Some offices only had a dentist, maybe a dental assistant in the office for emergency during quarantine, and possibly an administrative team remotely. If all team members get the concept of one another's job, it takes the stress off the doctor. Truly what cross-training comes down to is understanding and respecting one another's jobs. It is a great idea to always have task lists and a structured outline of someone's job, but it should be emphasized that we help each other whenever needed. Many times, I have interviewed candidates who will say I don't do sterilization, I only answer the phone, and for some reason the clinical team was always complaining of the schedule. If the team understands both the clinical and administrative sides, you will have less frustration, more open communication, and far more versatility. For instance, if we have an opening for a hygienist or for the doctor's column in the morning before the day starts, we make sure the whole team knows and is aware to help fill the space. Again, the "we team" manages the situation.

One thing I can tell you is that I have been in the dental field for almost 21 years and, for the last 10 years, I have worked at an office that truly has a "we team." As a leader myself, I feel I get more respect as an office manager with my clinical understanding and experience -- and I know the same is true for our employees. Yes, loyalty comes from employees when they are happy and see they are trusted and empowered and have growth opportunities. This cross-training culture makes for a successful practice every time!

Claudia LaSmith has more than 20 years of dental experience, starting off as a dental assistant and managing Bell Family Dentistry in Cary, NC, for the past 10 years. She achieved her mastership from the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) in 2020.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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