The Importance of Cross-Training

A lot of different skill sets are needed to make a dental clinic run smoothly, and successful clinics are usually ones where all of these skill sets work together to provide the best possible patient experience.

Administrative staff book appointments, handle patient intake and receive payments. Dental Assistants sterilize instruments, prepare treatment rooms and assist the dentist with procedures. Hygienists handle routine dental care and refer suspected conditions to the dentist. The dentist naturally focused on diagnoses, treatment planning and performing the required treatments. With each person playing their own role as required, patient care and processing appears seamless and efficient.

But what happens when these systems break down? Illness, staff turnover, or a sudden crisis can throw even the most carefully scheduled day into chaos, creating bottlenecks and reducing your clinic’s efficiency.

In my time working in the dental industry, I’ve heard from many dental practice owners about how frustrating and dangerous this can be. If staffing problems put your personnel in the position of needing to operate equipment, use software, or perform tasks they are unfamiliar with or haven’t been trained on, you run the risk of breaking established workflows and that can cause costly downtime.

This is why cross-training is important. If your receptionists, assistants, and hygienists are provided with the fundamental information that will allow them to step into each others’ roles in a crisis, your clinic will be much more viable in the long run. Here’s why.

Cross-Training Makes Your Clinic More Resilient

Intelligent scheduling is central to a smoothly operating dental clinic, but as the saying goes, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and a good schedule is nothing if you don’t have a plan B in the case of emergencies.

Let’s say one of your receptionists calls in sick and you can’t find a replacement: does the rest of your staff know how to answer the phones, use the appointment scheduling software and handle integrated payment card processing? Have they been trained on patient intake?

In situations like these, the first thing to suffer is often patient experience. Having your staff scrambling to process payments and book appointments is a bad look for any dental clinic, and if these problems persist you will be lucky if bookings remain stable.

Cross-training ensures that in the case of emergencies, your staff has the resilience to step into roles that are not part of their regular jobs. The day might still be stressful, but if your staff knows how to pinch-hit for their colleagues, you can save it from becoming a nightmare.

A Cross-Trained Team is a More Cohesive One

One of the biggest problems any highly specialized workplace faces is siloization. You know how your job works and the daily challenges that are involved in doing it, but you don’t necessarily know much about the problems the rest of the team is facing. They in turn don’t always understand why you need things to be done in just the right way.

When a team lacks cohesion, it can cause problems down the line. If your administrative staff doesn’t understand just how involved a process preparing a treatment room for a patient is, they might place unrealistic demands on assistants and hygienists. If hygienists don’t understand how the dental software works, they can create huge problems for the administrative team.

Cross-Training Makes Clinics More Efficient

In the world of dental management software, we have come to realize that cross-training helps workplaces run more smoothly even when there isn’t a crisis.

Having an entire team understand how to locate patient files and book appointments using the practice management software, for example, improves workflow by making it significantly easier for hygienists, assistants, and dentists to find information they need without going through administrative staff.

Not only can assistants and hygienists make bookings when they need to, they will also be able to retrieve bookings, and can add relevant information themselves.

And as the following video explains, cross-training staff can also be good for your bottom line in other ways:

Given how much sense cross-training makes, why isn’t it standard across the industry? Unfortunately, the biggest reason is simply the time investment required to make a cross-training program work.

Doing cross-training properly means taking time out of an already busy schedule to teach your staff how to do jobs that are not their own, and given how busy most clinics are, this can be a hard sell. But there are some straightforward, easy-to-follow ways to accomplish this goal.

When cross-training for assistants:

  • Make notes on how to check patients in and out, either manually or digitally
  • For more complicated scheduling software, plan ‘field trips’ and have admin train other staff one hour per month
  • Have a document handy noting what reports need to be run on which days and what calls need to be made and when

Remember that the most effective time for cross-training is when you can fit it in – whenever there’s a break in the chaos of your clinic’s day-to-day, you have your window.

Clinics that take this extra step quickly find that training pays dividends by making everyone’s work easier – and by giving your team the tools it needs to pull together and thrive even when key members are missing. This is why, if you haven’t already done so, you should make cross-training a key priority for your clinic in 2019.

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