Surviving the silly season

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surviving the silly season
Surviving the silly season is easy when you know how.

It may be the season to be jolly, but the Christmas period is also the busiest time of year in dentistry—and potentially the most chaotic without sufficient forward planning, as Tracey Porter discovers.

Career dentistry executive Kathy Metaxas believes there is a simple formula that can assist those in the profession to survive the hectic Christmas period.

As the owner of coaching consultancy Platinum Professional Development, Metaxas has spent more than four decades motivating and directing dental teams across the world to implement systems and protocols to allow their businesses to flourish.

During her years at the coalface, Metaxas has seen the unrelenting yuletide period claim many victims with practices losing not only money but also any goodwill tied up with their business because of a lack of resources.

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Put simply, all practice managers and owners need to do to adequately manage the silly season is “be pre-prepared, be organised and be fully staffed”, Metaxas says.

She says that first and foremost, practices need to understand that the Christmas season is not limited to the days immediately before and after December 25. 

Busy, busy, busy

Rather the Christmas period begins around October and continues through to January. It is not without reason that for many it proves to be the busiest period of the year.

Metaxas says this is primarily because it is, typically, the first opportunity school students and their parents have to make an appointment outside of work and school commitments.

Dentist-turned-consultant, Dr Nauv Kashyap, who purchased his first dental practice in 2008 and has started and sold a further 14 dental practices since then, agrees this period is among the most frantic of the entire year.

The founder of Practice Ownership Consulting says that while some families in higher socio-economic areas choose to go away during this time, many people are aware that their health fund benefits expire at year’s end and don’t roll over to the new year if left unused. 

“Dental surgeries would do well to release messages on social media regarding health fund benefits expiry to ensure patients come in and use them,” he says, adding that the holiday period is also when many people choose to have braces put on and wisdom teeth extracted.

Survival strategies

To ensure they are adequately placed to capitalise on this surge in business, Metaxas says practice managers and owners need to ensure their appointment books are already marked off in a template form for the year.

In November and December, there should be more buffers in the appointment book to accommodate higher case acceptance due to patients wishing to get their treatment completed before the end of year, she advises. 

All practice managers and owners need to do to adequately manage the silly season is “be pre-prepared, be organised and be fully staffed”. 
Kathy Metaxas, owner, Platinum Professional Development

“It’s a great time now to go to the appointment books and score them off. Rules for buffers should be a) only book a buffer the week of the buffer and not sooner and b) fill the buffer the day before with anything; buffers cannot become downtime.”

For some this can be a double-edged sword as there tends to be a lot of last-minute cancellations in December. Requesting pre-treatment deposits and offering a very reliable ‘priority stand-by list’ are just some of the ways this can be avoided, Metaxas notes. 

It is also worthwhile utilising this time to prep your lab of choice for the increase in anticipated work and confirm that it is available for any volume right until the last few days before Christmas, she says.

When it comes to staffing levels, Dr Kashyap says his company has an internal policy stipulating that staff members can’t take leave during this busy period for two years running; they can one year but then the next year it’s someone else’s turn.

Not only does this this allow for fair distribution of leave among staff, it also ensures the business continues to run well during this busy period, he says. 

Metaxas says another trick is to ensure that staff have submitted all Christmas period leave requests well in advance of the commencement of the silly season. Metaxas, who has also operated advisories across New Zealand, Singapore, Canada and the United States, says while it is typical for Australian dental practices to operate with minimum staff and dental practitioners between Christmas and New Year, it is “not ideal” for practices to close their doors during this period or to have a staff member there solely to answer telephones and manage walk-in queries. “If the practice door is open and the telephones are answered, then patients normally want an appointment,” she states.

Staffing

As for determining who gets first priority when it comes to staff leave during this period, Metaxas recommends practice owners and managers place all practitioners on a yearly rotating roster for designated work during the Christmas and New Year period. “This is the fairest way to handle the ‘silly season’. I do not include the principal (if there are multiple practitioners) in this roster as that is one of the privileges of owning the business.”

It is not uncommon for practices to bring in locum staff to help assist them through this period. Indeed, Dr Kashyap says that he knows many industry colleagues who find taking on short-termers to boost staff resources extremely beneficial.

He advises the best place to source dentistry locums is through the Australian Dental Association website and via “various social media forums” favoured by practising dentists. 

With many practices attempting to contract them for the same period, it is advisable to begin the recruitment process early, he says. 

For her part, Metaxas says while locums play an important role in assisting practices to navigate through this busy period, the most important thing ultimately is what patients think of the quality of care and service they receive.

“Locums can be great, or they can be very poor; it depends on who you find.”

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