Top Strategies To Deal With The Staffing Crisis

March 2022 ISSUE March 1, 2022
Practice Management Personnel
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The biggest challenge facing most dental practices is attracting and retaining staff. Unfortunately, demographic factors indicate this problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Below are the top strategies your colleagues are using to reduce labor needs as well as to attract and retain key staff.

In a recent ADA poll, 69% of doctors responded that their top practice challenge was attracting and retaining staff. 73% reported that recruiting new dental hygienists was “extremely challenging,” while 55% reported the same level of difficulty in hiring dental assistants. And most doctors indicated that staffing issues was the top factor limiting their practice’s growth.

According to Goldman Sachs, approximately 5 million workers exited the workforce during the pandemic. 3.4 million of these are 55 years of age or older and likely won’t return. Another 500,000 opted to start their own business and become self-employed during the pandemic. As a result, the labor participation rate (percentage of adults actually working) has declined from over 63% before COVID-19 to around 62% now.

Unfortunately, the worker shortages are likely to persist for years, or even decades, after COVID-19. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force is projected to grow by just 6.5 million workers through 2030 due to a combination of lower birth rates, higher death rates, and fewer immigrants entering the U.S. That’s down from almost 10 million for the 10 years ending in 2019.

We recently surveyed our newsletter members and McGill & Hill Group Aruba seminar attendees for their best ideas on dealing with the staffing crisis. Below are the top strategies offered by your colleagues.

  • We reduced our front office labor needs by outsourcing our insurance processing using eAssist Dental Solutions or Lassie. Now our front office team is spending more time servicing patients instead of filing for, collecting, and allocating insurance benefits which consumed 10 hours a week.
  • We outsourced our human resources (HR) needs using CEDR Solutions.
  • We reduced front office labor needs by outsourcing payroll and digital marketing to a third party. The marketing firm also upgraded our website, added video testimonials, and improved our search engine optimization (SEO) to boost new patient flow.
  • We cross-trained all our staff to meet peak patient demand without having to hire new employees.
  • We reduced labor needs by boosting orthodontic treatment efficiency using more Invisalign and self-ligating brackets. This reduced patient treatment times and also allowed us to increase intervals between patient visits. By minimizing the number of patient visits, we were able to reduce clinical labor by scheduling 16 patients per chairside per day.
  • We reduced front office labor needs and improved our phone call conversion rate by outsourcing phone calls to a professional call center.
  • We reduced treatment assistant labor needs through utilizing teledentistry for retention visits and new patient consultations. We also outsourced patient contracts so that patients have them signed before entering our ortho practice.
  • We implemented text messaging to send appointment confirmations and reminders through resources such as Switchbird.
  • We offer an online portal for patients to schedule appointments, ask questions, and complete their medical history information online at their convenience. We also allow patients to pay and check their account balance online or from their mobile device.
  • We raised fees 6% across the board in January to offset our labor costs, which have increased 15-20% over the past year.
  • We went out-of-network with two PPOs. While we suffered a minimal amount of patient attrition, it was more than offset by eliminating the substantial PPO discounts, which averaged 30% off our full practice fee. While we’re treating fewer patients, we’re actually making more money.
  • We eliminated one part-time position and increased the pay of the full-time staffers who absorbed her duties.
  • We allow one front office staffer to work from home one day a week (insurance, collections), and are more flexible with part-time work, especially for hygienists.
  • We are now hiring primarily for attitude and character first, and dental experience second, to attract higher quality candidates. We’ve been targeting teachers who are a great source for new employees.
  • We are using Indeed, Facebook, and ZipRecruiter to attract new, top-notch hires. We’ve also contacted dental supply companies, our local dental society, and are using word of mouth to find temporary hygienists to cover for the two hygienists in our office who left. These “working interviews” produced two great long-term replacements. We are also paying staff bonuses to recruit new hires.
  • To attract and retain staff, we’ve increased pay and benefits, such as our 401(k) match, medical insurance, free dental care, and child care reimbursement. We’ve also become more liberal in providing CE for staff. In order to outperform, we’re paying more, expecting more, and getting more.
  • Our culture and benefits set us apart; we’ve taken time to build a team through nurturing a family atmosphere and doing things socially together. We have regular staff meetings and allow everyone to have input on management decisions which has helped develop our team.

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