Practice Plan’s ‘Nourish and Flourish’ Workshop tour is now well underway, and something host, Michael Bentley, believes teams need to be nourished is systems.
As Michael himself admits, the mention of the word ‘systems’ can be a little off-putting, but they are essential tools for the smooth running of a practice. There is a quote from the book “Raving Fans” written by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, “What we have are systems. Not rules. Rules create robots. Not systems. Systems are predetermined ways to achieve a result. The emphasis has to be on achieving the result, not the system for the system’s sake.”
“A system is a description of how certain things should be done,” Michael went on to confirm. “We are all so different and the little things do matter. This is what makes you unique as a team.”
Michael urges teams to document their systems once established so that they are applied consistently. “The advantage of documenting things is it ensures consistency across the practice and any new starters can find out how things are done in that practice right from the word go. Each practice will have quite a number of systems that need to be recorded, such as patient telephone calls and surgery set ups. Each task will need its own system documenting so that everyone knows what needs to be done and can replicate it accurately.”
An important example of one of the systems in the area of patient telephone calls is a new patient call. “In your new patient call system, there are a number of key aspects to communicate within this call,” said Michael. “Before this call even takes place the team need to know if the practice is taking on new patients or not and in what capacity (NHS/Private) and can then answer accordingly. However, I would advise you to triage all new patients, as they may have been recommended to you by an existing patient of yours who is a friend or a family member of theirs. Just dismissing this sort of caller could be damaging to the practice’s brand and could embarrass your existing patient, who will then not refer anyone to the practice again. How to handle patient referrals is something that should be part of your new patient call system.”
Hints and tips
Your new patient call system should also include helpful hints and tips. It’s important that someone speaking to a new patient on the phone is allowed to carry out their conversation unhindered and so Michael suggests using a new patient form, but on coloured paper, when taking down the details, a tip he was given by Laura Horton. This will act as a visual cue to others that the conversation is important and is not to be interrupted unless for a very important reason. The use of a coloured form in these circumstances would also become part of your documented system.
During a call, Michael emphasises the importance of summarising for the patient your understanding of their needs at various points in the call. “This is so that they know you’re both on the same page as each other,” he explains. “Also, it’s better for the patient and helps to get the call completed more quickly. ‘What I’ve understood so far is you’ve got this concern, that concern, you’d like to make this change and that change, is that right?’ Once confirmation has been established you will be able to move the conversation forward with ease. This also saves time and eliminates the risk of misunderstandings with the patient and builds the rapport that they will expect at your practice.”
Systems help avoid mistakes
The next step in the process would be to recommend something from your patient menu. This could be a specialist consultation, a new patient consultation or a complimentary appointment with a treatment coordinator. Equally it could be an emergency appointment, or a hygienist direct access appointment. However, unless your reception team is made aware of what your new patient menu consists of, they won’t understand how to use this menu to recommend the appropriate option for the patient.
As Michael says: “Without the direction provided by a formal system, you could end up with a situation where a patient is recommended to book in for a new patient consultation, when what they really needed was emergency treatment. A system avoids mistakes and makes things clear for everyone.”
Michael is also a fan of including photographs and videos as a way of documenting systems. Especially for surgery set ups. “I like a photo guide. Because it’s easy, it’s visual,” he explains. “This is what they like, and how the dentist likes the lay out and you can see for yourself how it should look. I also like to include a checklist. So, with a few photos you can have your surgery set up systems documented in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand.”
Share the load
There will be a large number of systems in a practice. And so, documenting them all may sound like a mammoth task. However, by choosing to concentrate on one or two of them per week, and sharing the task amongst the team, things soon become more manageable. Once they have all been captured, it’s then a simple job to update and review them whenever changes need to be made.
As Michael says: “This isn’t just one person’s job. The whole team needs to be involved in documenting systems which is essentially a guide as to how things are done. There could still be times when quite a number of staff members are off ill at the same time, so we all need to be able to fill in for each other on occasion. If all your systems are documented, then that will make life easier for any colleague to be cross trained in your practice, providing the practice and the patient with a seamless experience. The team know what they are meant to be doing, as there is a system/guide to follow. “
Michael Bentley has over 20 years’ experience within the dental industry, starting out as a practice manager in 2000, whilst within this role he became a GDC registered dental nurse and treatment coordinator.
Michael now works as the HR and Patient experience manager in a thriving practice in Birmingham, as well as working as a dental business consultant for his own business “New Beginnings”. All this combined grass-roots knowledge has given Michael boots on the ground of the challenges you face day-to-day.