How NOT to Check Out a Dental Patient

Every dental office has a system in place for checking out their patients. I currently manage a small office and am the only person at our front desk. My system is pretty simple. I ask everyone to walk their patient up, tell me what they did and what the patient needs next. If there’s already a patient at my desk, or if I’m on the phone with one, I ask that they tell their patient to take a seat back out in the reception area and I’ll be right with them. This way we’re respecting their privacy and things flow well. Pretty straight forward right? But definitely not foolproof. I’m not sure what, but strange things happen between the operatory and the front desk. So I want to remind us all of how NOT to check out a dental patient.

Do NOT let the patient wander up all alone.

They appear rather suddenly with no clinical team member in sight. Then it’s, “Hi. I’m all done.” Fabulous! Who are you and what are you done with?

If you’re a Doctor, Assistant or Hygienist, you help all of the patients on your schedule. But up at the desk, we help all of the patients on all of the schedules. Plus everyone who calls. That’s a lot of names, places, people and treatment to keep track of. I do my best but my super powers don’t always allow me to immediately connect a patient’s face with who they saw and what they came in for. And things change all the time! Even if I know the patient’s name and there’s treatment attached to their appointment, I have no idea what actually happened back there unless someone tells me!

This is just as frustrating for the patient as it is for me. Even though they’ve wandered up alone, they assume I have all of the information I need to help them. They really don’t like it when I leave them standing at the desk to go find someone, or have to wait for someone to answer a page. I know this is true because I’m the one that hears their sighs and sees their eye rolls! And let’s face it even if they don’t show me their frustration, you know they’re annoyed that they have to wait.

So guys, please remember that your job doesn’t end the second you remove your patient’s bib. Escort them to the front desk, and communicate with your coworkers so they can have the smooth departure that they deserve!

Do NOT bring me a patient when I’m with a patient.

And FYI, if I’m on the phone with a patient, I’m with a patient!

This one really puzzles me. I work with a great bunch of people! Highly educated and intelligent. So why don’t they understand that just like them, I can only help one patient at a time?

I’ve tried to explain it. I’ve even tried to scare them with stories of the HIPAA police. They know what they’re supposed to do. But at least once a day someone’s brain shuts down and they ‘forget’. They’ll walk right behind the desk, stand next to me, and allow their patient to stand right next to the one who’s already standing there. Or they’ll just walk the patient up and say good-bye; leaving the patient ‘standing in line’ like we’re at Costco. If I’m on the phone, same thing. The best is when the patients join in on each other’s conversation. “Oh, you need a root canal? I had one of those once. Poor you!”

Once I realize that someone’s brain has shut down; they’ve forgotten all about privacy laws and that each of our patients deserves our undivided attention, I’ll interrupt the patient I’m helping and ask the new arrival to have a seat in the reception area.

You have no idea how much I wish I could show them what they’re doing! Like instead of having their patient wait in the reception area after they check in, I’ll bring them directly back to the operatory. “They’ll be right with you Mrs. Smith! You just stand right there in the doorway and stare at them until they finish up with their patient.” Oh but wait, wouldn’t it be CRAZY to bring them a patient when they’re already with a patient? YES! Yes it would be crazy!

I have first-hand experience in how not to check out a dental patient

I know I sound like I’m picking on the clinic, but really I’m not. I’ve been there myself. When I was a Dental Assistant, my Office Manager once told me that the patient checkout she hated most, was when I brought up a patient. She said that I was spending too much time talking with them at the desk. I gave her the information she needed, but it was taking too long.

At first I fluffed it off. She was just being mean and petty. But then she pointed out that she doesn’t work on a schedule like I do. Her next patient could walk up or call at any minute, and she needed to be ready. So the chit-chat that I though was me just being nice, was actually stressing her out. Once we talked about it I saw her point. And I felt really bad that I’d been causing her stress without knowing it. Moving forward, I wrapped up my chatter before I reached the desk.

And you know what? That right there is as simple as this gets. You don’t get a smooth patient checkout by having the best system in place. You get it through good communication; with your patients, and with each other. And by having team members who respect one another and care about what they’re doing.

Isn’t it always the way, that the things we need the most are the things we can’t teach?

‘The single biggest problem in communication, is the illusion that it has taken place’ ~ George Bernard Shaw

Anna Baumann

Annoyingly cheerful Graves Disease Warrior and Dental Office Lifer. Eager to share, help and connect. Big fan of kindness, food, ocean cruises and reading books while drinking tea.

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