During the public health emergency prompted by COVID-19, many states issued orders instructing dental offices to cancel or postpone elective or non-urgent procedures that could be delayed without much risk to the patient’s health. In April 2020, CNBC reported that the health care sector lost a record 1.4 million jobs and that dental practices accounted for over half a million job cuts. According to the American Dental Association, all but 3% of dental offices nationally were shut down except for emergency appointments in March last year and nearly 9 out of 10 had laid off staff. Many practices resorted to teledentistry to deliver virtual care and dental billing companies played a key role in helping them manage their revenue cycle.
Dental and medical offices across the U.S. are now reopening in a phased manner based on recommendations and mandatory safety and health standards issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. With the worker shortages driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be highly beneficial for dental practices to outsource their back office duties as they navigate the challenges of reopening.
2020 IDA Survey reveals Major Dental Office Staffing Concerns
Data released by the Indiana Dental Association (IDA) in July 2020 provides a clear picture of the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on dental practices in the state. At the time of the IDA survey, many dentists and dental offices were still suffering from acute and sustained financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dental offices had been experiencing staffing shortages prior to the pandemic and many reported worsening of the situation. Key findings of the IDA 2020 survey include:
- Up to 60% of dentists reported their office is still not operating at full capacity
- Many dentists reported trouble filling positions
- 37% of dentists reported that some of their staff quit or retired
- 17.6% reported having trouble filling office staff positions
The problems experienced by practices due to staffing challenges included
- not being able to schedule as many treatments, and
- the office failing to run smoothly
The reasons mentioned cited for not being able to find dental staff were:
- Fear of returning to works
- Competition for qualified staffs
- Unemployment benefits
In the new normal, dental practices need to review their staffing practices. According to a 2020 Dental Economics article, this may mean not employing as many staff as they previously did, changing employees’ duties, reducing hours or pay, and so on. The goal should be to keep the business functioning. In this situation, outsourcing dental back office duties can benefit both the practice and patients.
Benefits of Dental Back Office Outsourcing during the Pandemic
Dental practices can reemploy furloughed or temporarily laid off employees, but staffing levels should align with the level of business to ensure expenses are in line with budgeted costs and revenue. This means that not everyone, including back office staff, can be brought back. In the circumstances, outsourcing the back office to a dental billing company is a practical solution to rein in costs while promoting better patient care and practice efficiency. Experienced service providers can take care of the entire billing cycle, from the front desk and dental eligibility verification to patient scheduling, dental billing and coding, accounts receivable (AR) management, and more.
Dental insurance verification services provided by outsourcing companies involve verifying coverage benefits for both new and existing patients before they are treated. The process involves verifying the following details for each patient:
- Effective coverage dates
- Waiting periods
- Maximums and deductibles
- Treatment history
- Benefits used to date
- Type of plan and fee schedule
- Claim submission information (address, phone number, payor ID etc.)
- Coverage percentage by category
- Implant and orthodontic coverage
- Frequencies, limitations, and exclusions
- Missing tooth clause, and more
With a dedicated dental insurance verification expert managing this time-consuming and often complex task, dentists can rest assured that claims go out accurately and are paid in a timely manner. Proper insurance verification means reduced risk of denials and happier patients and is one of the most important aspects when it comes to improving the practice’s bottom line.
Patient scheduling involves optimizing the appointment system to maintain a steady patient flow. Managing patient scheduling can be a challenge when adhering to COVID social distancing mandates. Outsourcing companies can provide efficient online patient scheduling and appointment management solutions to help dental practices improve patient flow.
A dental billing company will work on your software to manage your coding and invoicing. Billing specialists stay up to date with coding changes and industry regulations and can ensure accurate claim submission. They will ensure you have an efficient AR operation that gets you paid accurately and faster.
To sum up, outsourcing back office duties during the COVID-19 pandemic can help improve dental practice efficiency and improve the patient experience. It will allow dentists to focus better on patient care and their (limited) staff to save valuable time that would go into verifying patient coverage. Outsourcing insurance verification and authorization to a specialist will also ensure eligibility review before the appointment, which is crucial to prevent claim denials due to eligibility problems.
The IDA survey reported that dental practices suffered loss of income due to staffing challenges associated with inability to meet demand, patient fear resulting in reduced demand, and new clinic protocols resulting in lower productivity. It’s clear that in these challenging times, dental practices need to find cost-effective ways of managing their operations. A reliable dental billing service provider can help them overcome back office staffing shortage and navigate office reopening more easily.