The Morning Huddle
July 1, 2021
The most important part of the day should be happening before you see your first patient.
The morning huddle (also called a “standup” or “scrum”) is a brief, daily meeting that will leave your team more informed, focused, and productive. A wide variety of organizations use the morning huddle to make sure that everyone on their team is aligned. It enhances communication across the team and ensures that all members share the same vision.
Simply put, it helps everyone get on the same page.
Just think: if a dental practice misses one x-ray a day on account of miscommunication, then they stand to lose between $20,000 – $25,000 a year in annual production, and create worse outcomes for patients in the process.
The morning huddle will help catch these kinds of oversights, make your practice more efficient, and lead to better outcomes for your patients.
Benefits of the Morning Huddle
The morning huddle can offer a host of benefits specific to dental practices.
The morning huddle makes scheduling significantly more efficient. For example, identifying gaps in the schedule can allow the patient coordinator to call in patients in need of emergency care and keep the rest of the office informed about last-minute changes to the schedule. Team members can identify patients with family members who are overdue for checkups and send them home with a reminder slip.
By enhancing communication among team members, the practice can increase production, offer care to patients more quickly, and make patients’ experience easier.
Morning huddles make treatment more efficient as well. For instance, hygienists can identify patients coming in for a regular checkup who might also require radiographs or panoramics. The morning huddle can help the team identify patients that can be moved from restorative to hygiene if they are overdue for a cleaning. Team members can exploit gaps in the schedule to offer additional procedures to patients, thereby improving care and increasing production.
Most importantly, morning huddles reduce confusion around patient care. As Chief Clinical Operations Officer at Apex Dental Partners, Dr. Michael Fooshee, explains, “For example, if a patient has a latex allergy, it’s on the chart, but you always want to make sure everyone interacting with the patient is notified and aware. Even if they are coming in for a routine cleaning, they’ll likely interact with several team members. Making sure that everyone is aware of patients’ specific needs during the huddle helps prevent serious accidents.”
By collectively reviewing patients’ charts, the entire team can ensure that each visit is conducted as safely as possible.
The Structure of a Huddle
Ideally, you want every member of the office at the morning huddle. Sometimes scheduling may make this impossible. If conflicts of schedule make it difficult for everyone to participate, try to find solutions like taking notes during the huddle and briefing the missing member(s).
The key to an effective morning huddle is preparation. Every team member should spend a few minutes at the end of the day preparing for the next morning’s huddle. Roles are typically distributed in the following way:
Doctors and office managers set the tone for the meeting. Remember, this is the first thing your practice does each and every day so keep things light!
As the facilitator of the meeting, you’ll want to strike a balance between soliciting the opinion of quieter members of the team and making sure that more talkative members don’t go off on tangents. Your job is to keep the meeting on track. The morning huddle is a great time to circulate important updates and reminders, for instance, to ask satisfied patients to leave a review online or refer others to the practice.
Hygienists and Assistants
The job of hygienists and assistants is to discuss the day’s patients. They should review patients’ medical histories and special procedures scheduled for that day. You’d be surprised at just how many times this review will help you find a patient who needs extra care. With the coordinator present, you can begin the process of figuring out when to schedule them.
Members of the front office should review the patients to be seen that day. They can identify outstanding balances that need to be handled and alert the practice to any openings in the schedule that might need to be filled. Coordinators might also share information about the day’s patients. For instance, they can identify new patients and how they heard about the office. They might also mention any birthdays, upcoming events, or any other important information a patient has shared in order to help the practice create a more personalized experience.
Everyone in the office should briefly discuss what’s going on in patients’ lives. When a patient comes in for an appointment, and the entire office congratulates them on getting married or taking a new job, they’ll feel pleasantly surprised that the team has taken the time to get to know them. Creating a more personalized experience helps build loyalty, and a more trusting relationship. This personal touch matters a lot when a patient isn’t exactly eager to get that extra procedure that you know they need.
Time and Place
The morning huddle can be as short as just a few minutes and shouldn’t be longer than fifteen minutes. It’s a good idea to budget in an extra five minutes before the huddle starts to give everyone a chance to prepare. The meeting should end no later than five minutes prior to the first patient to give everyone time to prepare for the day.
Remember: this is a short, daily meeting so save the complex subjects that might require healthy debate and deliberation for another time. Some people even find it helpful to hold the morning huddle standing up to help things move along. You might also find it helpful to hold the meeting at an unusual time (e.g., 8:39am) in order to encourage prompt attendance.
The morning huddle should be held in a private area away from patients. Ideally, hold it in a room with a large TV so you can display the schedule. If the room doesn’t have a display, then the agenda should be printed out to be shared with the team or shared on an app.
There are several items you may want to include in your regular morning huddle agenda. Below are a few ideas for you to consider:
Some doctors like to include a motivational idea or quote to set the tone for the meeting. Dr. Fooshee recommends starting the huddle by recognizing team members for their accomplishments. Remember, this is the first thing the practice is going to do that day, and every day so don’t make it too much of a chore for your team. However, it is a good time to review what went right and wrong the previous day. This kind of daily review is critical for identifying and correcting inefficiencies.
Then, typically, the office coordinator will review the schedule. They should identify last-minute changes that will affect everyone in the practice. The coordinator will also look for openings in the schedule to place emergency patients. By reviewing the schedule for unscheduled appointments, cancellations, and confirmed and unconfirmed appointments, the team will have a clear vision for the day ahead. As a result, team members can focus on the primary task of providing patients with excellent care without worrying too much about what will happen later in the day.
The office coordinator should also review the day’s patients. By identifying new patients, the office coordinator can encourage the team to build a rapport with them. As Dr. Fooshee points out, “If a new patient mentions to the front office that the cleaning done by their last dentist was too rushed, they can share that with the entire team to create a better experience for the patient.” The office coordinator might also flag patients that may need extra time on account of age, disability, or cultural or linguistic barriers. They should also notify the team of any patients who’ve displayed problematic behavior in the past.
Then, it’s the hygienists’ turn. They’ll review the charts of patients and their specific concerns. This briefing improves patient care and safety by reminding the entire team of any special conditions that patients might have that might impact their care. Hygienists will let the coordinator know if a patient is likely to need additional care in the weeks to come. Hygienists should also identify any issues with third parties, for instance slow lab responses or reports from other providers that might affect care.
Finally, the doctor will then identify goals for the day, week, and month both with respect to production and collections. You should discuss whether or not the practice is meeting its goals.
Dr. Fooshee points out that discussing production goals and actuals can ensure that they are meeting their standards for patient care. He explains, “Clinicians who consistently fail to meet production goals may need to look at whether or not they’re truly meeting their patients’ needs. Whether it’s becoming better at treating patients comprehensively, or focusing on educating patients better so that they accept treatment recommendations – we’re not able to help our patients and have low production numbers. While we may not like this measuring tool, production is just the easiest way for dental offices to measure the level of care they’re actually providing patients, which is why it’s important to keep these numbers top of mind and review them in huddles so trends can be identified and any gaps in patient care can be resolved.”
This is also a good time to review any outstanding balances as well as any financial issues with upcoming patients and appointments.
Try to end the meeting on a high note. Recognize a triumph of the practice, highlight a team member’s achievement, or celebrate some positive personal news.
The meeting should end at least five minutes before the first patient so that team members can adapt to any new information presented in the meeting and review their checklist before the first patient arrives.
After the morning huddle, the entire team should feel relaxed and ready to work.
Tips for Success:
- Make it consistent. The morning huddle should eventually feel like an essential daily ritual. While some might resist its implementation at first, it should feel like second nature after a few weeks. People will begin to appreciate it when they start to see how it pays off.
- Stay on track. Have a clear agenda and move through it quickly. The morning huddle should last no more than fifteen minutes so keep an eye on the clock.
- Always start on time. If team members grow accustomed to starting late, the 5-15-minute meeting can easily stretch up to half an hour. No one wants that!
- Make sure everyone is accountable. Team members are more likely to show up engaged if they’re individually responsible for some aspect of the huddle.
- Be open to feedback. This is especially true if you’re new to running a morning huddle. Encourage your team to offer their thoughts on how to make the meeting more effective and efficient.
- Keep it casual. Table any serious or lengthy discussions or debates for another time.
One of the biggest reasons that some doctors resist the morning huddle is that it does take time, each and every day. However, investing between five and fifteen minutes each morning will save hours each month, increase production, and, most importantly, improve patient care. By helping the team make use of gaps in the schedule, identify patients likely to need further care, recognize important factors in patients’ charts, etc., morning huddles result in benefits that more than offset the small amount of time they take each day.
One of the biggest benefits of the huddle is that your team knows what’s coming down the pipeline every day. It eliminates unpleasant surprises and fosters an atmosphere of relaxed productivity. Morning huddles help foster a culture of open communication, accountability, and enthusiasm. They provide the team with a clear, shared vision of where the practice is going.
Most importantly, making the morning huddle a habit will lead to better outcomes for your patients.