Dental Customer/Patient Advocacy: 5 Ways It Can Help Your Practice

A female dentist shows dental scans on a tablet to a patient seated on a dentist’s chair as part of a broader customer or patient advocacy strategy.

Effective onboarding can help your newly hired dental associate thrive in your practice. This could lead to a higher level of patient care and financial productivity throughout your practice.
Effective onboarding steps typically fall into one of two broad categories. First, steps that address legal requirements and risk management. This includes the employment agreement, liability coverage, and the ownership agreement.

Second, steps that contribute to making sure the new associate is happy, comfortable asking questions, a good fit for the practice, and weaved into the fabric of your team and community at large.


How to Help Effectively Onboard Your New Dental Associate

These are the steps that may help make onboarding your new dental associate effective from both a legal and productivity standpoint.
 

1. Create a Thorough Employment Agreement

dentist and new associate signing the employment agreement.

The employment agreement is meant to protect both your practice and the associate. A more detailed agreement up front may help you and the associate to less likely have conflict about the terms of employment later. Additionally, setting appropriate expectations regarding the terms of employment could increase the associate’s satisfaction with their position in your practice.

The major parts of an employment agreement include but are not limited to:
  • Restrictive covenants: These pertain to potential competition from the associate in the future and may address requirements for nondisclosure, non-solicitation, and the location of their future practice.
  • Compensation: Compensation structures for dental associates may vary. Typically, it is a percentage of collections or production, fixed salary, or some combination. In addition, incentive-based compensation and benefits should be clearly defined, as well as compensation during the insurance credentialing period.
  • Termination provisions: The notice period required for an associate to terminate employment might be one of the most common termination provisions. Another one you may consider is what constitutes the cause for termination in your practice.

2. Ensure the Associate Has Professional Liability Insurance

For the protection of your practice and the associate, they must have professional liability insurance. It can be provided by your practice, the associate, or both.

If it is solely provided by the associate, make sure you understand the terms of the policy and how a claim against the associate could impact the practice. Additionally, check that the policy is in effect on a regular basis and that there have been no lapses in coverage.


3. Create the Ownership Agreement

If the associate will eventually own the practice, the terms of ownership should be laid out in the ownership agreement when the associate is hired. This is because the baseline value of the practice when the associate is hired generally plays a key role in the financial aspects of the transfer of ownership.


4. Integrate the Associate into the Professional and Social Culture of the Practice

Hiring a new associate may be an opportune time to take stock of your current culture through anonymous surveys, one-on-one talks with your team members, and group discussions. You are looking for a consensus on how your team functions together as a unit.

Asking the following questions may guide you in defining your culture:
  • What are the special things your practice does to deliver personalized patient care?
  • How does your team go about instituting new policies or learning to work with new equipment?
  • How do team members provide constructive criticism of one another?
  • How do team members communicate with associates and owners?
  • Is everyone pulling their weight?
Your growth rate, referral rate, and retention rate of both employees and patients could also reflect whether your culture is serving your practice well.

If you find your practice has a high-functioning culture, deliberately pass that along to the new associate so they are wrapped into the culture as quickly as possible. If you find that elements of your culture are lacking, consider making changes to the culture as part of the onboarding process.


5. Promote the Associate to Team Members, Patients, and the Local Community

Dental practice owner welcomes new dental associate

Your team members could play a role in instilling confidence in the new associate. The front desk and assistants are often the patient’s first glimpse into what people think of the new associate.

Do not be shy about letting your team know why you hired this particular associate. Give them the message of what makes your new associate unique, and they may help relay that message to your patients and the community over time.

Consider announcing your new dental associate to the local community with some fanfare. For example, you may create an announcement in the paper, sponsor a local event where the associate can interact with the community, or run a promotional discount for services.


6. Establish a Meaningful Mentor Relationship

Mentorship could go well beyond a welcome packet and a night out on the town, although those may be helpful. The mentor-mentee relationship could be most valuable when it makes an associate feel comfortable verbalizing their biggest challenges. An expectation of perfection could be detrimental to growth. Additionally, the relationship could be especially productive when the associate’s goals align well with their mentor’s experience.

Keep in mind that you can be one of your associate’s mentors, but you do not have to be the only one. You can best serve your associate by helping them find additional mentors outside of your practice.


7. Foster Professional Development

Help new associates create a vision for their professional future, whether that involves specialization, ownership, or prioritizing work-life balance.

These actions can support professional development:
  • Encourage membership in local and national professional associations.
  • Make introductions to local study clubs.
  • Sponsor attendance at dental conferences and webinars.
  • Provide regular performance reviews.
  • Give them ownership of finding a solution to a specific problem at your practice.
  • Expose them to a wide variety of patient care.


Protect Your Dental Practice and Associates

Dentist’s Advantage can partner with you to help ensure your insurance coverage grows with your dental practice, one associate at a time. We offer professional liability, business owners, umbrella liability, workers’ compensation, commercial property, cyber liability, and employment practices liability insurance.

Learn more about our insurance solutions for dentists.