A competitive job market has made it hard to find new staff, but MyOrthoVA’s virtual assistants could make the employee pool global.

By Steven Martinez

Remote work has become a mainstay of the American job market, for good or ill, since it became necessary in the earliest days of the pandemic.

The broad availability of fast internet connections, cloud-based software, and mobile devices with cameras has enabled the sci-fi concept of video calls to become not only a reality but a mundane one at that. But while working from home is a nice perk of some jobs, what if one of your employees was logging in from halfway around the globe?

That’s what MyOrthoVA is offering orthodontists in the form of its virtual assistants. MyOrthoVA’s virtual assistants (VAs) are a pool of foreign workers trained and often experienced in administrative and clinical staff jobs who are available to fill positions in practices in America for a fraction of the cost of an U.S.-based employee.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation 20 years ago because broadband technology, the ability for someone to login from another country into the practice, was not possible,” says Alexander Waldman, DMD, MMSc, co-founder of MyOrthoVA and owner of Waldman Orthodontics in Beverly Hills, Calif. “In terms of video communication and all the things that we need to have to make a comfortable relationship with our virtual assistant—it didn’t exist.”

A virtual assistant for orthodontists

MyOrthoVA’s pool of workers is based in the Philippines and parts of Latin America (for bilingual Spanish/English positions) for the specific staffing needs of orthodontic practices. The company originally started as MedVA, offering virtual assistants to general medical and dental practices, but Waldman says the narrow skill set required to work in an orthodontic practice inspired them to create a specific offshoot for the specialty.

“The amount of information you need to be successful in orthodontic practice is pretty deep, but it’s fairly narrow in terms of what that skill set looks like,” says Waldman. “So, we spent quite a bit of time thinking through what core skills and information a VA would need to be successful in the practice on day one.”

MyOrthoVA puts each one of its VAs through a core training program before they are able to be placed in a practice. The program goes through the basics of working in a practice, including terminology both business and clinical, basic treatment protocols, the mechanics of tooth movement—specific enough that they gain an understanding of orthodontics but general enough to be applied to any system.
Many VAs have a degree in a healthcare specialty, some have allied health degrees, and some have experience working in dental and orthodontic practices in their own country. VAs are also evaluated for their unique skill sets so that they can be placed according to their strengths.

Waldman refers to them as soft skills (people skills) and hard skills (technical know-how).
Once the VAs are evaluated and ready, they submit a resume of their work experience and create an introductory video of themselves to help practice owners get a sense of who they are.

Reasons to outsource your staff

The pandemic exacerbated the staffing issues in orthodontics, and Waldman says the most common reasons people are interested in VAs are either because they want to keep costs down or don’t have the space to physically fit a new employee.

While VAs submit resumes and practice owners interview prospective hires, they are technically employees of MyOrthoVA, meaning that orthodontists simply pay a flat fee every other week to retain their services. They offer two levels based on the experience and training of the VAs, either $900 or $1,100 biweekly, which works out roughly to $11 an hour and $13.50 per hour for a 40-hour week.

This cuts down on the administrative burden of hiring a new employee as well as the legal hurdles of hiring a remote employee from out of state, or in this case, out of the country.
Inna Gellerman, DDS, owner of Gellerman Orthodontics in Huntington, NY, first heard of the concept of a VA through a friend of hers who mentioned it after attending a conference on oral surgery and prosthodontics. Gellerman was having a hard time filling a position in her practice and the candidates she received through Indeed were less than stellar.

“It was just hard to find the right person,” says Gellerman. “We would put out an ad, and the resumes we would get were from people who were not experienced in dental or any kind of medical healthcare industry.”

Gellerman’s office manager, Joanna Koelmel, contacted MedVA (as MyOrthoVA had not yet launched), and after an extensive conversation, she felt they should move ahead and look at candidates.

“They just really seemed to have everything together,” says Koelmel. “If I had a question, they had a strong answer, and the way the process rolls out is very structured. It was really put together well. We kind of went off of a good vibe.”

The VA hiring process

Gellerman and Koelmel were presented with five candidates, each with a resume and introductory video. Gellerman says there was no pressure to choose any of the five, and the videos, which included fun facts about the people behind the screen, turned out to be vital for making a choice.

Gellerman wanted whoever filled the position primarily to process patient insurance and to work on cleaning up their lead generation software, which had gotten too hard to manage. Whoever they hired was going to be speaking with potential leads, patients, and insurance companies and needed to be well-spoken.

“We knew that the person that we hired was going to be on the phone with our patients,” says Koelmel. “So, we definitely wanted somebody who could communicate effectively and had a good knowledge of the English language.”
They narrowed it down to two candidates and interviewed them both before finally making a choice.

How to train your VA

Practices are responsible for training their VAs on the specifics of their new job. Waldman says that it should take no more than 6 days of training to get a VA up to speed and productive in their position. VAs can learn by shadowing staff while doing the job, and while the distance might make training trickier than having someone in the office, practices have gotten creative.
When Waldman was training a VA for his practice, he wanted them to take part in patient scheduling.

“We wanted to have her on to understand the culture of how we speak to patients at the front desk—how we are sensitive to their scheduling needs,” says Waldman. “We realized that was something that you can’t do on Slack. We really needed her to hear it.”

Waldman had his staff log the VA into the front desk computer through Zoom for two days so she could hear and see how they interacted with the patients. While she was unable to actually see the patients, being able to hear the back and forth of a patient and receptionist turned out to be an effective training method.

“You would expect it to be hard to train someone to pick up the culture of your office remotely but it’s actually not. It’s actually really doable,” says Waldman. “Practices who really lean in on that and take the time to properly train a VA and treat them like any other new employee in their practice are the offices that will have the fastest road to success.”

A virtual assistant for any occasion

While Gellerman initially hired her VA to handle insurance, their lead generation software had become such a problem, they decided to start their VA on that project first. The software, which they used daily, was often being managed by two or three people in the office and they really needed someone to dedicate all their time to it to get it running smoothly.

“She [Gellerman’s VA] rolled with the punches,” says Koelmel. “Initially, we said, this is what you’re going to be doing, and then when we hired her, we were like, wait one second. We have another idea.”

Gellerman says the VA dedicated her time and effort to properly cleaning up and managing the lead generation software to the point that now it reliably converts leads into starts. While they don’t speak with the VA daily, they have an open communication policy, and she is encouraged to message the office whenever she has a question. She usually emails at least once a week, detailing how she spent her time in her role. It is only now, several months after hiring the VA, that she is transitioning into the role the practice actually hired her for.

“She’s very easy to work with, goes with the flow, and very easy to train,” says Koelmel. “Basically, anything we come to her with, she’s on board. She’s excited to be trained and excited to learn. She’s wonderful.”OP