Last week on #TuesdayTips, I went over 5 reasons why you need an office manual.  To summarize, an office manual will keep you from ever being caught in a jam when key staff are sick or quit; it will make training new staff A LOT easier; your office operations will now be more consistent; no task will ever fall through the cracks again; and you will be able to move towards your goal for your practice.

This week, we’re going to talk about how to tackle this tremendous and time-consuming feat!  Here are 5 tips to help you get it done:

1. Break your office manual down into manageable sections

There is nothing more discouraging than a huge task ahead, and you don’t know where to start!  By breaking the task down into small, manageable sections, it no longer seems quite as daunting.  It’s okay if you aren’t able to think of every single task at the beginning, especially since completing these tasks isn’t part of your job description.  BUT, as a business owner is IS your job to know what goes on in your business so part of creating this office manual is about learning what the tasks even are!  If you don’t know what tasks are being performed by your staff, then you will never be able to improve on the inefficiencies in your practice or figure out which tasks have fallen through the cracks.

Excerpt from my Back Office Manual table of contents, section Daily Activities:

Excerpt from my Front Office Manual table of contents, section Daily Activities:

*TIP: Think about how you would like to organize the sections.  One way is to organize them by the tasks most commonly performed; mine is organized in terms of the chronological order of the tasks.

2. Get your staff to do the heavy lifting!

Your receptionist and dental assistants perform these tasks on a daily (or regular) basis, so have them write down the steps as they go. Each task should be written in such detail that someone new to your office and your patient management software (e.g., Dentrix, Eaglesoft, Open Dental, etc.) should be able to follow the steps and complete the task.  Assign each person a few sub-sections per week to complete.

An example of how detailed the instructions should be for each task.  If you have Dentrix, then go ahead and follow my instructions to test it out.  Were they clear?

*TIP: Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, especially for back office tasks.  Set-ups, instrument packages, bur blocks, buttons on the autoclave, etc., are often made more clear with photos in conjunction with text instructions.  

3. Review the written steps and look for inconsistencies and inefficiencies

Without your guidance, your staff have probably been making small decisions on their own, such as, report filtering options, how they answer patient questions, when an account should be sent to collections, etc… Sometimes there are no ‘right’ answers, just consistent decisions!

On the topic of consistency, you should also script responses to common questions that your front office receives.  We even created a cheat sheet that our receptionists can refer to when patients ask them questions about procedures.  The reason we scripted this is two-fold: 1) Our receptionists don’t have any clinical experience, so while we try to educate them on procedures, it’s not something they do every day so it’s easy to forget the details; and 2) We want to give our patients clear and well-thought out answers that tells them what value they get out of filling a cavity that isn’t hurting them anyway.

Completing this review of the steps gives you a much better idea of what happens in your office.  Many of us either inherited staff or hired staff with prior experience, so in lieu of direct instructions from us, they perform the tasks the way they were previously trained.  You might not even need to change anything, but you do need to have a thorough understanding of what each person in your office does.  This understanding will allow you to properly assign job responsibilities AND discover any important tasks that have fallen through the cracks.  For instance, one office I worked with hadn’t set up their continuing care system and they had been operating for +10 years!!  Can you imagine how much income they lost in that time??  They have since increased their number of hygiene days since we discovered the gross error.

4. Design the patient EXPERIENCE.

The office manual is where you are forced to think about every detail of every step.  What do you want the patient to take away from their visit to your office?  Do you want it to be luxurious?  Or easy and convenient?  Or wow them with every technological bell & whistle?  Refer to your mission statement to align their experience with your ultimate goal.  What are the steps you want your staff to take to achieve this experience for the patient?

5. Keep it up to date. 

I like to print and bind my manuals, so that it is easy to reference and can be updated immediately, directly on the page.  Once a year, I take all the corrections and update the master file and re-print it.  This is known as a ‘living’ document – it evolves as our protocols evolve, which also means it is never actually complete .

I have manuals for my front office, back office, bookkeeping, and hygiene.  The front office manual is by far the longest and most difficult to complete due to the sheer number of small tasks. The back office manual consists of procedure steps, procedure set-ups, sterilization instructions, inventory & supplies ordering instructions, lab case protocols, and maintenance tasks, with a section on how to greet and seat patients.  The hygiene manual is a truncated version of the back office manual, which includes only the hygienists’ responsibilities. With that said, I don’t tell my hygienists how to clean teeth, but everything else about their job is written in the manual.  And lastly, the bookkeeping manual includes instructions on daily deposit reconciliations and how to properly enter transactions in the accounting software.