by Kelly Murray
By the time you finish this article, I will have given you four points that can help you decide if you need a clinical coordinator. Then, I will give you some insight on a few important skills this pivotal person must possess to get the back office running like a well-oiled machine. Let the games begin!
How do you figure out if a clinical coordinator is necessary? First, a patient arrives for his or her appointment and the assistant finds out as the patient is being put in the chair that his or her appliance has not arrived from the lab. It is the clinical coordinator’s job to be sure that all appliances are in the office ready to go the day before.
The next point is when the orthodontist comes out of an exam or conference. It is the clinical coordinator’s job to inform him or her where to go next. It is important for the doctor to be directed to the right patient in the right order so that everyone stays happy and the patient flow is not interrupted. The best compliment to hear is that the office almost always runs on time. I love it when I hear that patients never have to wait to be seen at their appointment time. That is another job responsibility of a clinical coordinator: traffic director.
Another point is the number of assistants in the office, and how much experience they have. An office with more new assistants than experienced ones needs a person to ask questions and learn how the orthodontist likes things done. In this instance it is invaluable to have a lead assistant to make the decision to fix the loose bracket or reschedule it at a better time. If there is no person to go to, the orthodontist will be bombarded with unnecessary, time-consuming questions. If he is not available, the assistant has to wait for him before starting the procedure. The tooth could have already been prepared, and the clinical coordinator could flag the doctor and let him know that there is a bracket to be replaced. This directs the flow so that the patient is not compromised and the flow is not compromised. In any office with more than six assistants, there needs to be a lead assistant. It gets way too crazy in the back for there not to be an assistant responsible for the whole back office. She becomes the liaison, which frees the orthodontist from that responsibility.
The final point to think about is organization of the back office. For the back to run as efficiently as possible, all the policies and rules need to be followed; and there needs to be an experienced assistant who can make sure that that is happening, see her patients, direct the orthodontist, and manage the other assistants.
Once you have assessed your back office and decided that you need a clinical coordinator, it is important to choose an assistant who possesses these talents:
Ability to communicate efficiently with the orthodontist. She must be able to be the orthodontist’s other hand, understand his thinking, and be able to handle situations just like he would.
Superior organizational skills. A successful clinical coordinator is a phenomenal multitasker, a highly experienced assistant who everyone likes. This is a tall order to fill.
People skills. If this skill is there, then the rest will come. The clinical coordinator must lead the staff and explain things to patients. Other assistants should be able to easily approach her with questions so that she can communicate effectively with the patients to defuse situations. At the same time, she must have the ability to teach and empower the other assistants to make certain decisions so she can be used in other places and not be spread so thin.
If an assistant is chosen as the clinical coordinator and it causes other assistants to threaten to quit, one of the orthodontists I work for—Bahar Gafouri, DDS, MS—suggests an alternative is to have all the assistants take a turn at being the clinical coordinator. This is a great alternative if the staff has been at the office 5 years or more. A new policy could be adopted that each back office staff member can be put in the clinical coordinator rotation as they reach their 5-year anniversary. That would be an enticing perk for the assistants.
Another reason for rotating the clinical coordinator is that everyone gets a chance to feel empowered and listened to; this is excellent for staff morale. A happy staff will do almost anything for the good of the office and doctor. The other orthodontist I work for—Wanda Claro, DDS, MS—adds, “With a great team, if someone drops the ball, the others should pick up the ball for a win-win situation. Just like in any sport.”
I hope all these points will help you decide if your office needs a clinical coordinator, and will help you see some qualities to look for in filling the job. Good luck, and I hope this helps to make your back office run more smoothly.
Kelly Murray has been working in orthodontics for 17 years. She can be reached at (949) 786-7800.