How to Write Standard Operating Procedures for Your Dental Practice

Have you ever taken a personality test? How about an assessment that uncovers your natural strengths and innate abilities? I’ve probably done them all, I love learning about my own personality type and interpersonal skills. There are thousands of tests online, but two of my favorites are the Kolbe Index and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I am a Kolbe Index Quick-Start/Implementer (Pioneer) and a Myers-Briggs ENTP (Debater; Analyst; Visionary). As you can see, they go hand in hand. I am someone who enjoys innovation and new challenges, “We’ve always done it this way” is not in my vocabulary!

Once you learn more about your natural abilities, you start to see how they shape your day to day life. For example, I went to one of those instant oil change places and paid over $100 for full-synthetic. It took ten minutes. I thought to myself, “How much money could I save by doing it myself?” The next time my car needed an oil change, I wanted to do it myself. I studied a few “How To” videos (Thank God for Youtube!) and saved myself $50. All I needed were the parts and the process – a “Standard Operating Procedure”

I started to tally up questions dentists have been asking me over the last 6 weeks and there were a number of docs who have never written Standard Operating Procedures and wanted my help. Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs is a guide that defines step-by-step instructions for any task.

Have you implemented Standard Operating
Procedures in your dental practice?
 

I don’t care why you don’t have SOPs in your practice. I care about you building them now – more than ever. If there is anything good that has come from this Coronavirus, it is that dentists want to make improvements. Writing SOP’s is easy but they can be time consuming. You will start by developing a complete list of the processes in your practice. If you have any employees on payroll, I would encourage you to enlist their help. Start by jotting down every process in your practice. 

  •         New patient protocol
  •         Lab shipping and receiving protocol
  •         Room Turnover protocol
  •         In operatory checkout – check back next week
  •         Morning huddle protocol
  •         Sterilization Process protocol

I hate the word protocol, but we have to start thinking this way and have clean, clear cut guidelines. Standard operating procedures are descriptive in nature – meaning a list of steps through the use of suitable details. Your SOP cannot be vague. Use definitive words like, “must” and “mandatory”. You will also need to decide the best design for each SOP, would it be more effective as a step-by-step guide or a diagram? That is up to you and your team to decide!

WHEN WRITING YOUR SOP’S, UNDERSTAND WHY YOU’RE WRITING THEM.

  • Create a safer environment for your staff and patients
  • Communication
  • Consistency
  • Compliance
  • Training
  • Employee accountability
  • Checklists to to eliminate errors
  • Continuous Improvement

Let the people who are responsible for these tasks develop the workflow. By people, I do NOT necessarily mean management. Talk to the people who actually perform the duties on a daily basis, this will give you an idea of what steps are crucial in your SOP. You can also conduct a staff meeting either in the office or via Zoom (Depending on your state social distancing regulations) and review the workflow together. It is not only important to make sure every step is reviewed and the flow is accurate, but it is equally as important that the SOP is easy to read and explains every detail of the process being described.

You want your staff to get it right EVERY TIME. Ask yourself if your SOP communicates the correct way of carrying out a process. Is it repeatable? Employees responsible for certain tasks should complete tasks the exact same way every time. There is no room for a “Primadonna”. You will need to police your SOPs and make sure everyone on your team understands what is expected of them.

Communicate!
Communicate!!
Communicate!!!

 

REMEMBER: PROCEDURES WILL ALWAYS FAIL IF THE PEOPLE WHO USE THEM HAD NO INPUT ANYWHERE INTO THEIR CREATION OR MODIFICATION, WHEN PROCEDURES ADD MORE WORK AND WHEN NOTHING IN THE ENVIRONMENT MAKES THE PROCEDURAL CHANGE EASY AND SUSTAINABLE.

After you have created your SOPs, the next step is implementing them in your dental practice.  Mount copies of them where they are needed – in sterilization, in the operatory, etc. Make sure they are accessible at every point of use.

My favorite part about SOPs is there is always room for improvement. These standards are living documents with opportunities to improve systems and processes in your dental practice. Maybe you’ve been frustrated in the past when your dental assistant forgets to bring in a hand piece for a bite adjustment. The get up and go get scenario is going to be more complicated and even more frustrating when the CDC shares new post-coronavirus guidelines. Get prepared now and be positive!

We are in uncertain times but we are human beings, we are resilient in nature. With every challenge, comes opportunity. Design Ergonomics, Ergonomic Products and Reboot Practice Productivity Training has teamed up with the incredible dentists, dental assistants, admin and hygienists at Perfect Smiles. Together we are creating new design, equipment, and training solutions to help keep your practice safe and efficient. All we can do right now is prepare for the future, are you?


Author Angie Bachman