Establishing Effective Dental Practice Workflows

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Developing efficient workflows is extremely important to establishing a process for care delivery. A smart practice workflow increases your overall efficiency, helps staff understand their roles and reduces miscommunication and waste.

Each practice’s workflow is unique, even at the most minute level despite how things might seem from an outsider’s point of view. Guidelines should be applied so that you can optimize the skills of your entire team.

According to the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, when developing your workflows, consider the following:

  • Measure your patients’ needs to determine how much you need to provide — supply and demand.
  • Manage your care staff’s patient panel size and scope of practice.
  • Anticipate your patients’ dental needs at the visit (this impacts the length of the visit).
  • Create backup plans for when care team members are not available.
  • Distribute workflow tasks across the team.

Constant communication within a care team is critical for efficient work. Consider communicating through huddles, team time, scrubbing schedules together, and daily communication boards. Alternatively, establish cues for task sequencing, like color-coded bins or flags that communicate that the patient is ready for the next step in the workflow, or a process is ready for the next phase of advancement.

Cross-train team members so they can fill in for someone during a bottle neck or if a particular staff member is out of the office. Establishing workflows help staff know what is expected of them and their assigned jobs. For tasks that have more than one possible responsible member in charge of it, consider cross training so these tasks can be handled as they arise by whomever is able to handle them.

Front office staff, back office clinical support and physicians all need to form a cohesive network of care. “The physician-patient relationship is still at the core of the practice but other staff members are playing increasingly important roles in fortifying that tie and contributing to the overall patient experience,” says the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation How efficiently each staff member performs their tasks affects the quality of patient care, the progress of workflow, and the financial well-being of your practice.

By reviewing tasks and workflows, you can identify areas that are labor or time intensive and look for solutions to make them more efficient. For example, there are two types of workflow: 1) how patients move through the system; and 2) how information is gathered, stored and recovered like clinical information, insurance and billing. To improve your workflow, you’ll need to look at both of these areas.

Use technology to your advantage

One ofthe most productive ways to improve your front office patient flow and information flow is to leverage technology to automate processes. The most important thing you can do to improve your front office flow is to move away from old, paper-based systems for managing your practice. Most paper-based physician office systems have piles of charts in various places waiting for something to be done with them.

By moving from paper to an electronic practice management and billing system, your staff can automate processes and streamline workflows by using a system where information is available everywhere in the office simultaneously and can be acted on immediately from anywhere. The same can be said for moving to a system that allows for the submission of electronic attachments to support claim adjudication. Doing so will streamline processes and improve claim workflows tremendously which will, in turn, yield a much-improved bottom line for the practice.

Scheduling and kiosks

Another tech tool that can help with workflows are automated scheduling tools that can help you avoid overbookings, manage waitlists, easily search for the next opening, and set recurring patient appointments. A system that is easy to use and lets you access and manage your schedules from anywhere can provide a real boost in productivity.

Also, consider making use of a patient kiosk. These can take work off the plate of your office staff and gets the patient to pitch in and help with the admin work. Additionally, the patient has more autonomy with regard to entering his or her history to be reviewed at the time of the office visit. Check-in kiosks with user-customizable patient forms can give you multiple workflow options for your practice. You can assign forms prior to appointments via a secure patient portal, saving time and freeing up your front office staff with other tasks. With a check-in kiosk, patients have the option to read, edit and sign faster than the old clipboard and pen method.

How much time and energy do you spend on unproductive efforts every day? If you’re like most dental practices, the answer is easy: too much. Studies show that even successful practices engage in wasting time, and often, it’s no one’s fault or choice. Careful planning and organization of your dental office’s workflow can save you precious minutes from the time you open to the time you close, allowing you and your staff to get more done. Time is money, and those minutes add up.