Get Your Staff Expenses Under Control

High staff expenses cut into profitability. Review three ways to manage your staff expenses.

Updated 6/30/20

As I look at the income statements for several practices, I’m seeing a trend. The profitable practices all have one thing in common, and the struggling practices are all missing this same thing. The common denominator for profitable practices is that each and every one has their staff expenses on target. And every practice struggling to make a solid profit also struggles with staff expenses.

Reduce Staff Expenses

First, take a look at your time clock reports. When does your team clock in? If your first patient is at 8:00 a.m. and you hold a quick 10-minute huddle before opening, but your team is clocking in at 7:15 a.m., that’s an extra 15-20 minutes per person each morning in staff expense. Next, is your team clocking out for their full lunch hour every day? And most offices have one person that’s “willing” to stay late– and that person will be clocked in for an extra hour at the end of the day.

Sit down with your team and set clear guidelines for clocking in/out. They can clock in 15 minutes before huddle, clock out for their full lunch hour and clock out 15 minutes after their last patient. Your job is to periodically check the time clock reports to make sure staff members are following these guidelines.

Next, look at your schedule. Are you leaving big holes in the 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. hygiene columns? If so, the clinical staff can come in later or leave earlier. It kills your staff expense percentage to have hygienists clock in for an 8:00 a.m. patient and then “keep busy” until the next patient at 11:00 a.m. Block your schedules, train your administrative team to schedule in those blocks, and keep an eye out for holes in the schedule.

If holes in the hygiene schedule are consistently a problem, count up the open hours each day. Let’s say you have a team of three hygienists and you’re counting six to eight cumulative open hours in their schedules each day. It may make sense to let one hygienist go so you can condense your schedule and keep your other hygienists busy. Although letting staff go isn’t any fun, it could be the one big change that fixes your staff expense problem.

Improve Production

Let’s look at a few ways to improve production. Perhaps you should reduce the duration of hygiene visits. Take your onehour recall visits down to 45 minutes, or move your child prophies from 45 minutes to 30. By increasing the volume of appointments you can schedule in a day you can impact your staff expense without cutting team members.

Next, take a look at your broken appointments. If heavy no-shows are causing open time in your schedule, then it’s time to re-evaluate your approach. Update your policies and charge chronic no-show patients a fee to pre-book.

Next, improve your approach to filling the schedule. Make sure your staff members are making full use of the Unscheduled List (from the Appointment Book, Appt Lists > Unscheduled List) and the Continuing Care module (launched from the Continuing Care button in the Appointment Book). The Unscheduled List and the Continuing Care module are fluid lists that update as you make changes in Dentrix. Assign team members to call using these lists and hold weekly or monthly meetings to assess the current backlog of unscheduled appointments and missed recall opportunities. By filling schedules and holding your team accountable, you can improve the staff expense percentage.

Increase Collections

Let’s say your production is strong, but the real problem is collections. Your staff expense ratio could be out of balance simply because your manager isn’t spending the time necessary to call insurance carriers on the Insurance Aging report. In Dentrix, you can easily run your Insurance Aging report (from the Office Manager, Reports > Ledger > Insurance Aging Report) and review notes of your collection efforts.

Beyond insurance, meet with your manager to review the collections process. Are you sending statements monthly? What collections efforts is she making? What happens when a patient doesn’t pay? Dentrix allows you to run the Aging Report (from the Office Manager, Reports > Ledger > Aging Report) sorted from largest to smallest balance so you can tackle worst first. By increasing your collections– not just a one-time bump, but a maintained increase–you can offset your staff expense and improve your profits.


Right about now, you may be realizing there are dozens of aspects of your practice that you could be working on to improve your staff expense. And, you’re right. The key is to make changes. Don’t just accept that your staff expenses are too high and there’s nothing you can do. Decide that you’re going to run a profitable practice and then continue to make changes until you achieve the staff expense balance you need.

Learn More

Read What to Do When Production is Down and Are Your Collections Processes Proactive? for more information.

Visit to learn about Dentrix solutions that can help improve billing and collections.

By Jill Nesbitt, Dental Consultant

Originally published in Dentrix Magazine, Winter 2016