An in-office communication system four decades ago was just a shout down the hall to get the attention of a staff member. Fast-forward to 2016 and we have seen buzzers, light systems, white boards, sticky notes, computers, and radios. It has nearly come full circle from yelling down the hall, to yelling down the hall on a radio. The problem is that the older methods weren’t that good and what has taken their place isn’t much better. Decades ago, I searched in vain to find the perfect in-office communication system and always seemed to fall short. So I just figured out a way for staff and doctors to actually create systems that eliminated the need for most of the interoffice communications in order to fix things that could be fixed with better protocols.
If we look at what most patients find upsetting with their dental experience, right at the top of the list is “you keeping them waiting and/or constantly running behind.” It is especially true when we look at the numbers of an office where we see few referrals, and horrible recall and reactivation percentages. It all circles back to internal marketing and a way to insure that we communicate well and run on time. How can we create a non-disruptive way to communicate between the front desk, assistants, hygienists, and doctors while not adding to the confusion we already face? Ideally this strategy should keep you on time, notify the appropriate staff members, when patients arrive, when hygienists need a check, where each producer is at any one time, offer a communication format from Op to Op, and have built in timers to remind you whether or not you are on time or falling further and further behind. Before I present the Ops Tracker to you, allow me to dissect other current communication strategies and their shortfalls. Keep in mind that no communication system will compensate for poor systems, inadequate protocols, and marginal staff.
Yelling Down the Hall: In small offices it works fine, but it does seem to reinforce the fact that when we yell at an assistant we are just pointing out our inability to actually stock our trays and tubs to adequately perform a procedure. We could also include having a staff member just stand outside the Op and use hand signals and dirty looks when they need the doctor for something. For me, this does not put us in the best light in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
Message boards and 3M Sticky Notes: Are you kidding me? We are still doing what we did in the third grade when we wrote notes to our friends and got in trouble when it was ignored or intercepted by another student or the teacher. Mechanical systems are a little three decades ago and don’t really let the rest of the office know where everyone is or what or where the immediate needs are in the practice. After all, the dentist just seems to ignore them anyway, and then we are back to having them stand outside of the Op and make dirty faces while taping their watches. This strategy, if it works at all, would fall under the “effective” but not “efficient” title.
Light Systems and Buzzers: Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s we saw a proliferation of the panel with small colored lights that could be turned on and off along with an attention getting buzz. This really worked pretty well but was expensive at the time and was limited because it had to be hard wired and was difficult to expand the number of lights without redoing or reinvesting in bigger and better panels. These later morphed into LED lights (breakage was minimized) and wireless applications (easy to install or expand), but they too still fell out of favor about the time that we got computers in all the rooms. It lacks the ability to actually message to one another.
Computers: Originally it was just a couple of CPU’s at the front desk, with very early accounting software dressed up with a new name of “practice management software”. As time passed, we added CPU’s in each Op along with more sophisticated software to the point that most offices use only 10-20% of the bells and whistles we thought we needed to actually run our offices. Even with multiple screens and more and more sophisticated software and computer speeds, we still run behind, can’t communicate, and fail to understand the need for a simple system to allow us a dashboard view of productivity that every member can take advantage of. Again, it can be very efficient (kind of) but not very effective.
White Boards: This is where you use a master White Board to push the doctor or prioritize the doctor’s next productive patient while informing everyone where he should be next. Simple, and simple is good, but it doesn’t really let you communicate with all of the staff at the same time, fails to organize others tasks for productivity, and creates a problem of using cameras to send a visual picture to all of the terminals in the office. Trouble is the board is not easily changed, viewed, or interactive enough to fulfill all of our criteria. This would have been great in the 1950’s if we were not given any other alternative for productivity and communication. (I guess that would have been a “chalk board” in the 50’s.)
Radios: The final solution for interoffice communications. I have used these and I find a lot of things that don’t really work well. It’s kind of like watching the latest reality show, and not really admitting that we should be asking ourselves: “what were they thinking of?” Radios have become so commonplace that most of us would be reluctant to actually question their effectiveness and efficiency. Radios are that “back mole” that is starting to look pretty bad and you wake up one day and decide you have to do something about it. To their credit, radios can be both efficient and effective, but at a cost.
- They are expensive
- They are easy to break or will need replacement often.
- They constantly need to be recharged or have their batteries replaced.
- They are uncomfortable to wear.
- Staff hates them. You darn near have to get undressed to go to the restroom; you are tangled in wires (an OSHA hazard). They hurt your ears.
- Most of the communication does not involve you so most of the chatter is a distraction rather than a help. This bodes poorly for the patient because you are listening to an on air conversation and not paying attention to what is going on right in front of you.
- It encourages you not to fix your systems and protocols. If you are constantly asking for instruments, another staff member to come to the Op, or interrupting what you are doing to reprimand, advise, or direct someone else, you are not engaged with the patient.
- The doctor never wears a radio, so the 800 pound gorilla that is the central cause of all things good and bad is the only one not on a tether and rarely communicates unless it is something negative.
- People inadvertently take them home and fail to bring them back the following day.
- Like the sticky note, the doctor, or the invisible staff member you are summoning, just fails to appear or respond.
I happened on a little bit of software that has transformed a lot of the offices we work with. It is called the Ops Tracker. You are going to want to get this little jewel. Just click this link (https://youtu.be/hY7wIypA4Wc) to watch a short video demonstration. Then come back and I will show you how to get one for your entire office. This is going to change the way you practice dentistry.
- Color coded by provider
- Expandable for any size office
- Measures the amount of time you keep patients and hygienists waiting and signals a color coding
- Times can be customized
- Tracks where staff are working
- Tracks where the doctor is working or checking a patient in hygiene
- Has a dedicated messaging board that identifies where the message originates from
- You can signal where the doctor should go next
- Fits on your computer screen and can be moved or minimized when not in use
- Works with any/all practice management software
- Costs only $199.00 for the entire office (one time cost; no ongoing monthly charges)
Just go to www.summitpracticesolutions.com/products to order your Ops Tracker today. You, like everyone who has installed and used it, will be thanking me for pointing you in the right direction. This is how you Summit.
Mike Abernathy, DDS