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Best Practices for Dental Employee and Patient Retention

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patient retention-dental industry-employees-dentists-dental assistants-patient portal-benefits

There’s always a need for dental care, but like every industry during the pandemic, the dental industry is experiencing workforce disruptions. 

Katie Fornelli

Senior Practice Management Analyst, California Dental Association (CDA)

Michelle Coker

Employment Practices Analyst, California Dental Association (CDA)

Many employees weren’t working for a while due to cautions over COVID-19 while others are looking for career advancement or a change. While the dental industry is bouncing back, dentists can do a lot to achieve patient and employee retention.

The American Dental Association (ADA), which has been surveying dentists since the pandemic started in 2020, reports it’s been a growing challenge to staff dental hygienists, dental assistants, administrative staff, and associate dentists. As of March 2022, 38% of dentists were recruiting dental assistants and a third were recruiting dental hygienists.

In fact, the need for dental assistants prompted the California Dental Association (CDA) to launch a training program, Smile Crew CA, to help recruit and train dental assistants to meet the need.

“What I’ve seen in my years of experience is that it can be challenging to recruit new folks into dental assistant positions because it’s viewed as a physically demanding role with limited upward mobility,” says Katie Fornelli, senior practice management analyst for CDA, a membership organization representing 27,000 dental professionals in California.

She says dentists who have succeeded at employee retention have provided mentorship, training, and advancement for employees.

Michelle Coker, CDA employment practices analyst, agrees: “If you have a desire to help people, it’s a really rewarding position, but you need to feel needed, you need to be educated and given the opportunity to grow in some way.”

Great renegotiation

The Great Resignation is underway with 4.3 million Americans quitting in January 2022. New data shows 44% of workers are “job seekers.”

But Coker, who sees it as an opportunity for a “great renegotiation,” encourages dentists to find ways to get team members to stay.  Start by asking employees why they’re loyal.

“Give your employees the ability to be invested and feel like they take some ownership of what happens to the success of a business,” she says.

Employee retention helps the practice since it’s costly and disruptive to hire and train new employees. It’s a hardship for the rest of the staff to train a new person and an adjustment for patients to get used to a new hygienist or assistant. Plus, having little employee turnover also helps make a dental practice more marketable.

Dental practice management software, such as a patient portal, can help streamline office practices, which can benefit patients and employees alike.

“A patient portal allows you to communicate directly with the patient electronically,” says Fornelli. “You can streamline processes and procedures, and it allows the patient to text the doctor or the office when they want to make an appointment, access patient records, or submit new patient forms.”

Staying connected

It’s important for dentists to stay connected with their teams, especially now. Show employees you care about them and their families by offering what they value, such as flexible work schedules, medical and dental health coverage, pet insurance, and bonuses.

“A good leader would go above and beyond right now to appreciate the people that continued to show up during the pandemic,” says Coker.

Even if an employer doesn’t have the financial means to offer a lot of benefits or bonuses, they can build a caring culture. For example, Fornelli suggests buying lunch for your staff once a week or giving $5 gift cards to employees who’ve gone out of their way to help patients or support the practice. Praise employees for great work and recognize them on their work anniversary. She says these little incentives can yield big results, conveying the feeling, “I’m in this with you. I’m going through this with you. We’re going to get through this together.”

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