5 Important Soft Skills for Dental Office Assistants Need
What Are Soft Skills?
Your education at Blackstone will prepare you for a career in the dental profession. Your formal training as a Dental Office Assistant is considered a “hard skill” – something that can be measured by test results. Even though this is very important, you will also need to rely on “soft skills.” Let’s look at five soft skills that will make you a more valuable team member: communication, compassion, attention to detail, time management, and problem solving.
This is the most important part of your job and a foundational soft skill. You will communicate with your dentist/employer, fellow team members, patients, as well as insurance companies, dental labs, suppliers—the list goes on and on. A lot of time will be spent on the telephone. The person you are communicating with needs to hear your smile. How do you do that? I was trained to have a hand mirror on your desk – look into the mirror, breathe, smile then answer the phone. The person on the other end of your call will be able to hear how personable you are. Speak slowly and calmly.
You are a health care professional who is part of a dental team. Patients will confide in you just as much as they do the clinical staff. You will need to actively listen to what they say and respond accordingly. Always be compassionate – you have no idea what another person is going through. You may be the only person who took the time to be understanding and listen to their problem. Active listening and compassion are key soft skills, because they make patients trust you and feel comfortable.
Since COVID, I am finding a lot of my elderly patients want to talk more than at prior visits. They have been isolated from friends and family, and this trip to the dentist is one of the few personal interactions they may have had in months. Take the time to really listen to what they are saying. You are the friendly face that brightened their day. It costs nothing to be kind.
3. Attention to Detail
Charting, coding, documentation – always remember: if it is not documented, it did not happen. It all needs to be documented. Let’s take a quick look at coding for composite restorations. There are separate codes for anterior teeth (teeth numbers 6-11 and 22-27) and a different code for posterior teeth (teeth 1-5, 12-16, 17-21, 28-32). Should you use an anterior code on a posterior tooth it will be denied by insurance carriers.
There are also different codes for the number of surfaces involved. Example: A one surface anterior composite restoration is D2330 while a one surface posterior restoration is D2391. If the dentist did a 7-F composite restoration, what code do you use? The number of surfaces is one and it is tooth#7, an anterior, therefore the correct code is D2330. This will get easier the more you work with it.
The insurance clearing house my office uses will “flag” incorrect coding before it sends them to the insurance company. The entire claim will show in red, making it easy to see and giving me time to correct the error. This clearing house also flags claims that need attachments such as root canals and crowns that need x-rays for processing. Maximize your computer software. If you have not been formally trained on your software program, then check out the software program website for demo videos or You Tube videos. There is always training available, you just need to ask.
4. Time Management
Having a set schedule or routine will help your day run smoother. Prioritize tasks. I begin my day by checking with the answering service and emails for any changes in the schedule. Remove any cancellations and fill any open time slots all before our morning huddle. At huddle each team member is given a copy of the schedule, review all changes, discuss possible problem areas, look for slots for emergency patients, make sure financials are all in place, go over yesterday’s numbers; our senior doctor then gives us our inspirational quote of the day and we begin. There are four of us in the business office, so we share the following duties.
One oversees posting payments. Most of our payments come through EFT’s (electronic fund transfers) which means we do not receive a paper check; the money is automatically transferred directly into the office checking account. The insurance company will send us notification – some by email others by fax – we need to then rectify the direct deposit with the EOB (explanation of benefits) and post to the patient account. This is a full-time job in an office as large as the one I work in. My task is to begin reviewing the schedule two days in advance.
I look at every appointment. Are all prior authorizations back from the insurance carrier? Were financials gone over with the patient? Are all lab cases back? If the answer is “no” then it is my job to follow up. I then begin confirming these patients – yes phone calls go out TWO days in advance. This allows extra time should there be any cancellations or changes.
Our office utilizes a third party for confirmations. The patients receive e-mail and/or text alerts 1 month, 1 week, 1 day and 1 hour prior to appointments. This is on top of the phone call from me two days in advance. They cannot say they “forgot” or did not realize they had an appointment. Our failed appointment rate is very low.
Once the patient confirms, a green check mark appears on the schedule, so I do not need to call them. Patients do have the option to opt out of this service but very few have. It is nice to have these reminders when some of us have such busy schedules. While we are posting payments and confirming two days in advance, another team member is working on tomorrow’s schedule. Even though I called and reviewed this yesterday I did not reach everyone. We do not consider an appointment “confirmed” until we personally speak with the patient.
Our office will see 60 – 70 patients a day therefore this is a very time-consuming project. We all help the fourth person check patients in, check patients out, answer the telephone, process insurance claims, file pre-authorizations, …. The list goes on and on. Now you see why communication is number 1 item in this article. We all need to work as a team.
5. Problem Solving
Now that we just discussed how to manage your time by having a schedule now you need to adapt to work on the fly. I saved this skill for last because being able to adapt to a constantly changing environment is required in dentistry. Everything could be in place when disaster hits. We have to understand that anything could happen; power goes out, compressors go down, someone calls off sick, or as we are experiencing now, a COVID pandemic could unfold. We need to find ways to deal with anything that gets thrown our way. By staying calm, taking a breath, and being prepared, you will get through anything.
There is so much more to dentistry then “drill ‘em, fill ‘em, bill ‘em” as we did when I started in this profession over 40 years ago. You too can make Dental Office Assistant a lifelong career if you remain calm and follow your passion. Be a lifelong learner and you will never be sorry. Keep smiling.
Written by: Colette Jesikiewicz CDPMA, FADAA
Colette Jesikiewicz joined our Blackstone team in 2020. She is a graduate of the Expanded Function Dental Assisting program at Luzerne County Community College, Nanticoke, PA. Mrs. Jesikiewicz received her national accreditation as a Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator from the Dental Assisting National Board and her Fellowship in Dental Business Management from the American Dental Assistants Association. Her past experience in the profession includes chairside assisting, receptionist and office manager. She currently holds the position of Dental Administrative Assistant at Fortis Institute, Scranton, PA. and Administrative Service Coordinator for the DentalCare program at Jewish Family Service, Scranton, PA. She looks forward to guiding students through their training in our Dental Office Assistant program.