Can A Visit To Your Dental Office Be Harmful To Your Health?

Guest Post by Dave Rajczak –

Whether you work in an auto body shop or a dental office, as a result of daily operations you are continuously exposed to various levels of bio-aerosols and other toxins. However, within a body shop, the customer is not usually part of daily operations and remains separate from the production environment and hazardous materials.

The dental office is unique in that both the dental team and their patients share the same air and are exposed to the same hazardous materials during service hours.

Dental offices in fact have the potential to be more polluted than most industries because they have high traffic areas that produce bio-aerosols (containing bacteria and viruses) resulting from dental procedures and the constant cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and dental instruments. It has become clear with more research over the years that untreated, these contaminants are absorbed into the bloodstream and have systemic effects on humans such as increased risk of infectious disease transfer, breathing difficulty including asthma, decreased lung function and heart problems.

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Aside from the health aspects, from a legal perspective, the Occupational Health and Safety Act stipulates that all employers including dentists have a general duty to protect workers (and in this case also patients) by providing adequate ventilation and replacement air free from contamination.

How does one know if an air quality problem exists?

Most potentially harmful particulates cannot be seen by the naked eye and therefore it is difficult to know their level of presence and corresponding risk to health. It is perhaps helpful to use a simple analogy and think of the work environment as a swimming pool. If the swimming pool turns green we automatically know it is likely unhealthy to swim in it and for health and aesthetic reasons we sanitize the water and run it through a filtration system until it is clear. Although we can never completely rid the water of every single contaminant due the constant addition of new agents, with continuous filtration we know that the water will be safe and pleasing to swim in.

Measuring a working environment for potentially harmful toxin levels

By using a Particle Counter device (example) that takes in a specific sized sample of air and counts the number of particles of various sizes we can “see” the quality of the air and compare it to the acceptable levels determined for the intended use of the room or environment.

For levels that are deemed unusually high, the simple and most practical solution is a medical grade air cleaner (example) that will remove the vast majority of dangerous particulate matter from the air. This breaks the cycle of airborne disease transmission, which may lead to infection and/or other symptoms previously mentioned.

Tangible benefits of cleaning the air

Practices that have implemented air purification systems reported reduced staff absenteeism and improved performance. By installing such systems in their offices, practice owners are not only complying with the law – their staff and patients also notice the cleaner air.

An investment in a safe and healthy environment will help protect everyone that enters your office and may even influence patients to refer their family and friends!

Fostering Positive Behaviour at Your Dental Practice

In my line of work, I am often asked about the challenges of running a dental practice. Dentistry is a wonderful profession, but let’s face it – no field is without its unique set of hurdles. Running a successful practice is part art, part science and part skill. But no matter how gifted or skilled a dentist might be, his or her practice is made up of people.

And so, one of the biggest challenges of running a great practice is understanding those people, and their behaviours.

ABELDent’s dental software program has easy to use features such as our appointment scheduler and automated patient communication. Although they help keep dental schedules organized and patients informed, keeping your staff effective and motivated requires strategies and actions that elicit the responses you desire.

Workplace behaviour is a growing topic of conversation in dentistry, and every year there is more and more emphasis on implementing positive change. Changing behaviour patterns in any workplace can be tough, but with the right attitude, even the most pervasive negative behaviours can be curbed.

Let’s take a look at 3 common behaviour issues common to many dental clinics – and then let’s consider how to turn the problems around.

1. Smartphone Use

You might be frustrated when your staff are constantly distracted by their smartphones, and wondering how to fix the issue. Smartphones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but there are ways to curb use in the office.

One solution is to limit use to certain windows of time, such as on breaks or during lunch. You might also put a ban on cellphones in meetings, at reception, in restrooms or in high-traffic areas. Whatever limitations you impose, a written policy that employees have to read and sign is the best way to curb the problem, as that leaves little room for misinterpretation.

When your employees follow these rules, acknowledge their improvement. Identifying and broadcasting good news is a great way to foster positive change. While disciplinary action may be required if someone repeatedly refuses to put their phone away, rewarding staff who do comply will go a long way. A great reward might be to reduce the smartphone limitations over time, allowing for more liberal use once the staff has shown initial discipline.

2. Negative Attitudes

This one can’t always be helped – some people just have bad days. The important thing to reinforce to your staff is that negativity is contagious, and that a bad attitude will affect everyone, including the patients.

When you notice positive workplace behaviour, it’s important to recognize, acknowledge, and even reward it. On the other hand, when you see undesirable behaviour, be sure to address it right away. If someone’s bad mood is having a noticeable effect, it’s important to deal with and confront this type of negative workplace behaviour head-on.

Don’t be afraid to sympathize with the person if they are dealing with a real problem – but also don’t be afraid to remind them to be professional and leave their personal issues at home.

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3. Lazy Management

If you want your staff to be engaged and to offer the best possible patient experience, you need to ensure that your management team is equally engaged. Helping improve workplace behaviour takes effort, and your management team will need to take an active role.

It’s imperative that your staff feel empowered to succeed. Providing top down feedback is great, but when management actually takes the time to coach their staff, there is much more room for improvement. Management should set distinct goals and deliverables and then acknowledge and reward staff as they reach various benchmarks, not simply when the larger goal is reached.

Also, consider scheduling customer service training from a third party that has experience working with dental offices. They can provide an objective validation of the customer experience you wish to achieve as well as offer the expertise necessary for successful implementation of your office policies. The training sessions can also serve as a great team building experience and ensure everyone is on the same page.

When your staff feel that management wants them to succeed, they will embrace the pride and satisfaction that often comes along with facing new and exciting challenges.

Be Patient

I completely understand the desire to see positive change happen quickly. But in reality, as research shows, you’re more likely to see success when you take it slow. Set smaller benchmarks to success, and reward staff that make a real effort.

Behavioural theory suggests that there are a variety of stages associated with embracing change, so make sure that your employees have the time they need to go through the stages. This kind of focus and care will result in positive, permanent changes that will be noticeable to everyone at your practice.

If you are clear about the issues while also allowing your employees the time to slowly turn it around, you might be surprised at how many people will fall into the new system. It just takes time.

It’s been said that positive verbal praise and feedback stimulate the same parts of the brain that receiving money stimulates. When positive behaviour is cultivated and shared, it’s more likely to be repeated – and it doesn’t cost a penny!

Patient Satisfaction by the Numbers

Have you ever sat in a waiting room tapping your fingers, hoping each time the Nurse appears that your name will be called? Definitely been there, definitely hoped that.

Have you ever noticed that even as a Doctor or Practice Manager yourself, your level of overall satisfaction decreases in direct proportion to your wait time? That after around 10 minutes, your mind starts to calculate the cost of your wasted time? Do you start to issue imaginary invoices to the provider for your own time? I’ve done that as well.

According to recent research conducted by Software Advice, the average wait time in a dental office is 13.5 minutes. Of the over 5,000 patients surveyed, 97% reported frustration with the time they were expected to wait for a pre-booked appointment.

Further, the study found a real co-relation between wait times and patient satisfaction. When patients have to wait for the Hygienist they are more likely to be dissatisfied, but when the provider is earlier than expected patients are both more satisfied and more likely to follow the treatment plan.

Other than mastering the arts of accurate scheduling, streamlined patient processing and efficient clinical work, there is not a lot you can do to avoid delays. Some patients will always be late. Others may take longer than anticipated to treat. Emergencies, cancellations, staff absences… your days rarely unfold exactly as planned.

So while you cannot always control wait times, what you can work on is altering your patients’ perception of the length of their wait. Here are a few suggestions that might help you do that:

  • Create a pleasant atmosphere with comfortable seating.
  • Music and magazines have always been standard. Adding a TV monitor can have a big impact on patient entertainment.
  • Offering complimentary beverages is always appreciated. Bottled water is a great option: simple, refreshing and healthy.
  • Most patients today will keep themselves occupied with their mobile devices. So make sure you offer WiFi – independent of your practice’s access for security purposes – and clearly post login information.
  • Acknowledge patients upon arrival.
  • Communicate wait times whenever possible. 80% of patients say they would feel less frustrated if they were told expected wait times in advance.
  • Manage wait times carefully. Checking back, asking questions, offering an update will make the time seem to have passed more quickly. Rely on practice management software that tracks appointment status, wait times and patient alerts to draw your team’s attention so they can take immediate action to reduce the negative impact of waiting.
  • Use your portal to advise patients via text of any delay expected to exceed 15 minutes.
  • Also use your portal to allow patients to pre-populate and update their personal information and health histories. They will appreciate that you have created a system to help reduce their wait times.
  • Maximize the capabilities of your software to use electronic forms, have patient information at your fingertips and capture real-time data throughout the appointment.
  • Regularly analyze your data to identify and address trends to reduce wait times. Good practice management software tracks the entire patient visit from arrival to departure, giving you the opportunity to learn from recurring issues and specific bottleneck situations.

For the most part, we have all come to expect some degree of wait time when visiting a Dentist or Doctor. You can differentiate your practice by minimizing the impact of the wait, to the delight and surprise of your patients.

 

Practical HR Best Practices for your Practice

I have been working recently alongside our Human Resources Consultant, updating our Associate Handbook to accommodate the seemingly ever-changing provincial employment standards. It has really reinforced for me the importance of having well defined, current policies in place.

The exercise also got me wondering: How many of our dental practice management software users have a handbook for their employees? Regardless of size, every company can benefit from adopting this best practice.

A handbook serves a multitude of purposes, it:

  • Documents your well-thought-out policies that should then be applied to all team members equally.
  • Helps onboard new employees.
  • Serves as a guideline when behaviours need to be addressed and adjusted.
  • Provides a foundation for end-of-employment decisions.
  • Can help demonstrate your commitment to compliance and consistency to government auditors, lawyers, or Human Rights Tribunals.

In the busy day-to-day of a dental practice, HR matters can easily get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Well-meaning intentions get brushed aside… right up until a significant event brings your policies – or lack thereof – into the spotlight. It’s then that you might regret not having taken action sooner. Here are a few things you can think about now that might spare you the regret. And the grief. And the legal fees. And the fines…

  • The final straw syndrome
    It happens all too frequently. A Manager makes the decision that she can no longer tolerate poor job performance or undesirable behaviour and terminates her employee. After the fact, she learns about the risk of wrongful dismissal.

Precaution: establish and follow a progressive discipline process. Make the employee aware of specific issues and give the employee an opportunity to improve. Follow one verbal notice with at least two written notices.

  • I’ll get to it later…
    It is never easy to have to correct behaviour with reprimands and criticism. What is easier is procrastinating and hoping the situation will improve itself. Chances are good that it will not. After two or three instances, the dates, times and specifics become blurred.

Precaution: Develop an empathetic, professional approach to delivering constructive criticism, and teach it to all supervisory staff. Identify and communicate issues early. People are usually receptive to feedback when it is delivered earnestly and fairly, when it focuses on behaviours rather than attitudes, and when there is benefit to self-improvement. Document your conversations to keep track of details.

  • When NOT to be constructive
    Sometimes, it can be easier for a Manager to avoid confrontation with an underperforming employee by reassigning them to a junior role, significantly changing their role or work conditions, or simply making their life difficult in the hopes that they will resign. In employment law, this is constructive dismissal.

Precaution: Don’t do that.

  • Job creep
    This is a common phenomenon in dental practices: You hire an excellent Office Manager who becomes your go-to person worth their weight in gold. Over time, this person takes on more and more responsibility and an ever-increasing variety of functions, and manages to do it all in a 40-hour workweek. When this employee resigns, the practice cannot expect to fill all the ‘hats’ with one hire.

Precaution: Create clear Job Descriptions for every role in your practice. Do not allow any one person to become indispensable; develop succession plans through effective work distribution and cross training. A smart system of checks and balances also helps mitigate fraudulent activity. This is one objective of a built-on software feature like ABELDent’s Authorization Manager.

  • When is an employee not an employee?
    Engaging Consultants to bring complementary skills, knowledge and talent into your practice is a great way to grow your business. Companies need to be aware, however, of the criteria that differentiate an employee from a contractor. Significant fines apply to an employer – yes, the onus is on the employer – when a misclassification occurs.

Precaution: Consult Canada Revenue Agency for clear definitions. 

  • Too little, too late
    How many employers have regretfully accepted the resignation of a star employee who did not realize how much they were valued, or was unaware that a correction or a promotion was “in the works“?

Precaution: Maintain a connection with each team member. Start today. Whether through annual performance appraisals or informal quarterly chats, enable healthy two-way dialogue.

I apply the advice of our staff HR Consultant in my day-to-day operations and truly champion the foundational philosophies: Hire the right people, focus on the fit. Train and retrain, clearly defining purpose, expectations and performance measurements.

Never underestimate the value of communication in running a business: Praise when earned, thanks when deserved, feedback when warranted. Ask your team for input and ideas, and listen to their perspectives.

If your practice could benefit from more pragmatic advice like this, customized HR solutions and proactive support, give me a call. I know someone who can help!

People management may seem intuitive, but don’t most things with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight?

Are you in the Market for a Dental Practice Business Partner?

I was intrigued by an article I read recently in The Canadian Press about the challenges a small business can face when taking on a business partner. Reading it reminded me that for many of our clients – entrepreneurial dental practice owners – moving from a sole proprietorship to a partnership represents a natural approach to growth.

Small-to-medium business owners can get so caught up in the prospect of infusing their business with investment money, help and expertise that they overlook the due diligence they would normally extend to other types of decisions. They would rarely hire an employee without a formal interview, confirmation of experience and credentials, reference checks, and a fit check… why should a potential partner undergo anything less?

A partner is a much more significant commitment. When a partnership fails, it can be emotionally and financially devastating. It disrupts your business, your staff, your patients, and could harm your reputation. Financial wrangling can lead to complete fallout and business closure. It can deliver some very hard lessons and a blow to entrepreneurial spirit. In short, it’s wise to consult with an experienced dental practice broker who knows about the issues specific to dentistry that a general business partnership advisor may not be cognizant of.

Joyce M. Rosenberg, Business Writer for the Associated Press, in her article on this topic, stresses the importance of professional financial advice and legal counsel in drawing up a partnership agreement.

Along with explicit financial and legal understanding, it is important to examine:

  • Goals and vision for the business. Are you in agreement about short- and long-term goals?
  • Roles and responsibilities. How will work be divided and shared? Are your clinical interests complementary, or is there potential for conflict?
  • Fit. Do you complement each other in your working style? Will there be a good fit with existing staff? Do you share values and purpose?
  • Work ethic. What expectations exist regarding hours of work, amount of work, pace of work, quality of work?
  • Service philosophy. Do you share patient treatment and service standards?
  • Growth plans. Are you in agreement regarding reinvestment versus payout?
  • Conflict. Can you establish today how eventual conflict will be handled and resolved? Can you agree to recognize and confront the signs that the partnership may no longer be working?

Partners do not need to be clones of each other; different perspectives and constructive challenge are healthy in every business. But they do need to be able to communicate. They need to understand what their strengths, weakness and differences are in order to plan effectively and work through obstacles as they arise. They need to trust each other.

I often hear the comment that we spend more time with a business partner than with a life partner. Shouldn’t we exert the same degree of effort in choosing one?

Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Shouldn’t Dentists be Especially Good at This?

Sales executives in every business will unanimously agree that referrals from existing customers are the of lead generation. Certainly for us, when a satisfied ABELDent user recommends our software to a colleague, we are thrilled on multiple levels.

First, it is testimony to the confidence that Dentists place in our product. We are honoured that they take the time out of their busy day to champion ABELDent! Second, the positive introduction promotes our solution and dramatically reduces the sales cycle. Finally, the direct lead to a qualified decision-maker is the most cost-effective method of welcoming new customers.

The same benefits apply to a dental practice whose patients trust them enough to recommend their services. Imagine for a moment if one-quarter of your existing patient base was to successfully refer just one new patient each. That would represent a 25% growth spike without touching your advertising budget!

As great as that sounds, it is actually realistic to aim to receive one referral per year from 40-60% of your existing patient base, of which ideally 10% will successfully convert to a new patient.

So how does your dental practice measure up? Do you even know how many referrals you received over the past year? Are you aware of the value to your practice?

Every dental practice should know:

  • The number of new patient referrals and revenue attributed to the new patients
  • Your referral conversion ratio – how many leads actually convert to new patients
  • The net patient growth of the practice (the number of patients leaving the practice vs. number of patients added over the same period)

The good news is that all of the information necessary to calculate these KPIs resides within your ABELDent data. Detailed Referral Reports present useful data about all referrals including names, sources, timing, and resulting revenue generation.

Now… considering the value of patient referrals, imagine the exponential benefits that could be achieved with a little proactivity:

  • Ask for referrals. Train your front-desk staff to be confident: “We’re expanding our practice. Do you know anyone who needs a great Dentist?”
  • Print out cards that your patients can easily pass along to contacts
  • Develop an email or texting campaign to make it easy for your patients to forward your coordinates
  • Create prestige whereby a referred patient receives a value promotion (and be prepared to offer that same promotion to existing patients upon successful referral)
  • Offer an incentive. Contests, random draws and Frequent Referral Rewards always spur participation
  • Establish a Patient Appreciation Event… remember the famous car maker that sponsored a free drive-in movie event each year for customers and their families and friends?
  • Maintain top-of-mind awareness through ongoing communication. Brief, interesting newsletters tend to have a high readership ratio

It is important to remember that new patient acquisition should only be a priority focus once a successful patient retention strategy is in place. To explore some practical ideas and strategies for patient engagement and loyalty, just re-visit my previous posts:

In with the new… Patients

Facts and Figures Speak Volumes about Dental Patient Retention

Every dental practice has a UVP. What’s yours?

In closing, we have recently launched our amazing new ABELDent 365. Do you know anyone who needs some great practice management software?

I invite you to continue this conversation by reaching out to our team at any time.

Healthcare Data Security Statistics that May Surprise You

Have you noticed the influx of Updated Privacy Policy notifications in your inbox?

Companies in the European Union – and any company anywhere with EU customers – are scrambling to meet the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance deadlines. It’s just a matter of time before stricter privacy control legislation is imposed in other parts of the world.

The protection of personal data is an increasingly hot topic. With every news report of lost, stolen or hacked data, we all become a little more uneasy. Businesses ramp up their focus on protecting their clients, and customers focus on themselves.

With recent high-profile breaches of protected health information (PHI) at companies like Anthem and Allscripts, consumers are more worried than ever about their personal data being compromised. It seems to be a double-edged sword. Consumers are wary of sharing personal information – financial and health-related data top the list. Yet as patients, we expect health professionals to have complete access to our health profiles and background in order to make critical diagnoses, quickly.

The very nature of this information makes the healthcare industry a prime and profitable target for criminals. As you would expect, data security for the users of our dental and medical practice management software has always been a priority.

So naturally, I was intrigued by the findings of Verizon’s 2018 Protected Health Information (PHI) Data Breach Report. I came across a recent article by Suzanne Widup of Verizon’s Security Research Team summarizing findings from 1,368 incidents within the healthcare sector covering 27 countries. Interestingly…

  • 58 % of incidents involved insiders. Whether driven by financial gain, such as tax fraud or opening lines of credit with stolen information (48 %); curiosity in looking up the personal records of celebrities or family members (31 %); or simple convenience (10 %), poor internal controls pose a major threat to an organization.
  • 70 % of incidents involving malicious code within the healthcare sector were ransomware infections.
  • 27 % of incidents related to PHI printed on paper. Cyber hacking may be in the news, but it seems real breach activity can also be found in the paper trail. Mailed or faxed prescription information, billing statements, copies of ID and insurance cards… these printed documents are commonly mis-delivered, lost or thrown away without shredding.
  • 21 percent of incidents involved lost and stolen laptops containing unencrypted PHI.

At ABELSoft, our Privacy and Security Specialists are intimately involved at every step of product development and quality control. They champion control and vigilance with internal stakeholders as well as with every software user. Here are several short- and long-term measures suggested by Verizon and by our internal team to lessen the risk of some of these challenges.

a. Full Disk Encryption provides an effective and relatively low-cost method of keeping data out of the hands of criminals.

b. Integrated controls (like ABELSoft’s Authorization Manager, for example) define user roles and access requirements.

c. Documented policies and procedures that mandate routine monitoring of internal access demonstrate commitment to vigilance and repercussions.

d. Staff education regarding these policies is critical.

e. Preventive controls for defending against malware installation are key, as is minimizing the impact that ransomware could have against your network.

f. Unfortunately, ransomware attacks will not always be prevented. There are cases where protective technology gets breached and humans get misled. Good backups become the only recourse when preventative measures fail (other than paying the ransom or starting over, which are both unacceptable solutions).

g. Practices should work towards a reduction of paper-based PHI in their environments, and establish a holistic risk management program that protects not only ePHI, but also other sensitive data that they store and process.

As much as we like to think that we have become cyber-aware and digitally vigilant, we know that hackers and sophisticated criminals will try to get past our defenses. We cannot assume that our team members intuitively understand the importance of privacy and security of healthcare data. They must be educated, reminded and monitored to make sure that you remain the reader of cybercrime news reports… and not the subject.

Read the 2018 Protected Health Information Data Breach Report

Related Posts:

3 keys to cyber security: protect, detect and respond

Pharming and Phishing and Smishing… what next? (re-post)

In Control… or not? It’s up to you