Roles and responsibilities of staff in a dental office
The operation of a dental office involves doing many tasks which may require a different set of skills. The list of tasks and who is responsible to do what is different from one office to another. There are tasks that are unique to larger offices and there are tasks that are grouped together in smaller offices. However, regardless of the details, the goal is to ensure that similar tasks that require similar set of skills are done by the same person/group. This is important because when it comes to hiring, there are some skills that are usually found in a certain type of person who is unlikely to be efficient in other tasks. There is always that unicorn who can do any and all tasks of course but that’s not the norm. That’s why it’s important to know what tasks should be grouped together and be done by what type of group. In this article, we go over various roles in a dental office and how one can define the responsibilities to ensure that one can find a potential employee who can perform those tasks effectively given the realities of the job market.
Job Titles in a Dental Office
If you have worked in a dental field for some time and have been in different offices, you know that different offices don’t have the same titles for their roles and responsibilities necessarily; two offices may mean a different thing when they refer to the same title. That’s why we are going to define each title for the purposes of this article. Needless to say, the responsibilities need to be done irrespective of the title associated with the person performing them.
The following job titles are the ideal way of breaking up the responsibilities in a dental office. They group the responsibilities that require a certain type of skills under one person which makes it easier to hire for that particular position. However, in smaller dental offices, the responsibilities of different roles, particularly the management ones, may be broadened to reduce the number of needed staff so that the business can afford their salaries. We will discuss this in the next section and will review the pros and cons of this approach as well. We also have some recommendations on how to consolidate these roles for smaller offices to minimize the negative impacts of such consolidations. And lastly, doctors and hygienists are not included in these categories as they’re the providers in the office.
Different offices may refer to this group as “assistants”, “back staff” or similar terms. They are usually Dental Assistants (DA), Registered Dental Assistants (RDA), Registered Dental Assistants Expanded Function (RDAEF, RDAEF2) and alikes. The main responsibility of the back-office staff is related to the clinical aspect of the business, like handling lab orders, equipment, supplies, etc.
People who work in this role have specialized clinical training. They are the ones that are trusted by patients more than the rest of the staff in an office. They usually should have a calm and supportive nature to assist patients and ensure their comfortable during a visit.
The main responsibility of the receptionist in general is to deal with patient communications. They are the first point of contact with patients, both before their first visit as well as during an office visit; they are also the communication bridge between patients and the back staff. receptionists further take care of checking the patient out and, in a lot of practices, book their next appointment at the end of the appointment. Collection, answering phone calls, reaching out to patients to confirm their upcoming appointments, answering emails and following up on recalls or pending treatments. They play an essential role in making sure patients are happy because they are the ones that primarily communicate with patients when the patient is not in the office (which is most of the time). They are usually the ones who also check insurance eligibilities before patients come for their visit. They contact insurance companies and enter the details of the insurance plans into the practice management software so that treatment coordinators can accurately provide an estimate to patients (for out of pockets).
People in this role should have a “I am here to help you” attitude towards patients. They are in fact the support staff whose main role is to ensure that patients are overall happy.
In most offices, treatment coordinators are the ones that put the treatment plan together, present it to the patient, get their consent and have them pay the deposit to start the treatment (if applicable). They have a great understanding of dental insurance and different plans, they understand dental codes (ADA codes), and know how to break treatments into phases. In addition to that, and probably more importantly, they know how to communicate the value of each treatment to patients in such a way that patients accept the treatment.
Treatment coordinators play a vital role in a dental office. In addition to their skills in understanding the ins and outs of dental insurances and dental codes, they have to be great sales people. They are the ones who actually sell patients on their treatments in a lot of cases. This is a critical skill for treatment coordinators since if they are not good communicators, patients will not realize how important a treatment is, and/or will not accept it due to the price tag attached to it which will negatively impact the patients in the long term. This is the one sales job that benefits both sides if the sale is closed on a timely basis.
Billing personnel in a dental office handle insurances and/or patient balances. As billing is the most knowledgeable about dental insurances. They also submit insurance claims to insurance companies, follow up with them and post payments to the practice management software. They are also the ones that follow up with patients to collect their balance.
Great billing specialists are detailed oriented. They have some understanding of accounting such as collection and account receivable, and can produce and understand various reports like aging reports and alike. They mainly ensure that the office gets compensated for the work that it’s doing other than the collection that’s done in person at the time of the visit.
The office manager typically is the person responsible for smooth operation of the office. S/he is the one who manages other employees by deciding the priority of the tasks that they need to perform overall, assigning the tasks to the right person(s) and monitoring the performance. The office manager is also responsible for reviewing staff performances, deciding on new hires, terminations and trainings. S/he is the one who represents the business owner and is ultimately responsible for making sure the business is staying afloat.
Office managers are leaders. They manage the employees and should be trusted by them to give them direction and guidance. They should have an understanding of all aspects of the business and to be able to prioritize tasks and assign them to the right people in the office.
As mentioned before, smaller offices tend to combine different tasks from different role categories to reduce the total number of staff in the office simply to control the overhead of the office. This is necessary in a lot of situations because an office with $400K annual revenue for example simply cannot afford to hire 10 staff members and pay them all competitively. That’s why it’s essential to know what roles can be consolidated and in what way to limit the negative impact of otherwise limiting personnel and human resources in the office.
There are two thoughts that need to be paid attention to when deciding on how to combine the responsibilities:
- Different roles require different attributes and characteristics in the person who’s performing them. The roles that are too different should not be combined. For example, the type of person who is good at talking to patients and making them feel taken care of in the receptionist, is usually different from the type of person who can deal with dental insurances & billing. Analytical skills and sales ones in this instance should not be combined into one.
- The more roles you combine, the harder it gets to find a person who can do them well. Hiring unicorns is not easy if not impossible, and even if you do happen to find one, it’s not easy to keep them as they are in high demand; unless, you are willing to outpay your competitors (i.e. other dental offices), chances are they’ll find another dental practice with higher pay and will leave which will ultimately cost the business more.
Generally speaking, the office manager can take over part of the responsibilities of a treatment coordinator and billing. This will make it so that a small office can operate without a dedicated treatment coordinator and a billing person. Such offices will only have an office manager, a receptionist and a back staff. Combining any other roles would not be recommended but if necessary (eg. the owner dentist is willing to help the office manager with some of her/his responsibilities), then the office manager can also take care of the responsibilities of the reception staff. However, this could create a bad patient experience potentially; this will make it difficult for your patients for instance to reach out to anyone in the office (e.g. phone calls) because your office manager is too busy dealing with live patients or other staff members.
Although some offices combine the roles of a receptionist and back staff, we believe that the two roles should not be combined since each of the two require very different set of skills that are hard to find in the same person.
There are ideally 5 different roles and job titles that are required to operate a dental practice: reception, back, billing, treatment coordinator and office managers. This is in addition to hygienists and dentists. However, depending on the size of your dental office you may have to consolidate some of these roles to be able to do the work with fewer staff. These roles should only be combined when the two skill sets are compatible.
You can refer to the following articles to learn more details about the responsibilities of each and how you can use 2Dental tools to reduce the amount of work for each of the roles to minimize the number of required staff without negatively impacting the business.