by  Alexa Chilcutt, PhD

“The most pathetic person in the world is one who has sight but no vision.” Helen Keller

No matter the industry, leaders often overlook the need to take time to define, create, and maintain a vision for their business. The busyness of daily operations thwart the efforts necessary to create and cast vision, goals, and objectives that they and their team can get behind. As to the above quote, the sight becomes so short-sighted that we fail to look ahead.

Work without vision becomes mundane, teams without vision get bored, and a business without vision falls into disrepair. Gallup Poll 2013 results include the finding that, “The bulk of employees worldwide — 63% — are “not engaged,” meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes.” Leadership begins with a mind-set, one of understanding that the leader(s) is the creator of the mission and vision and must continually guide the team in a positive manner toward the facilitation of strategic goals and employee buy-in and engagement.

You, the dentist, need to take time to craft the goals for the upcoming month/year and the overall vision for the practice. This may include time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday to clearly think about what is important for you personally and what you would like to see your business accomplish (team-wise, financially, relationally with patients, or even physically – the office itself). It is then that directed organizational communication efforts come into play.

The annual retreat is a great place to gather the team to assess what you have accomplished over the previous year, conduct a SWOT analysis to refocus energy on your strengths and opportunities while recognizing weaknesses and current external threats, and to create a set of strategic goals which can be measured and accomplished moving forward. Monthly meetings (with an agenda) offer time to discuss team accomplishments, current concerns, and items dealing with personnel. Morning huddles should be the brief functional overview of the day, getting the team to realize immediate goals (patients, scheduling, difficult cases of the day). Remember that it is the leader’s job to make sure that no meeting concludes without articulating the accountability measure of “who does what by when.”

Alexa Chilcutt, PhD

Alexa Chilcutt, PhD


Dr. Alexa Chilcutt is a faculty member of the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Alabama and provides practice management CE courses with Symphony Dental. Contact,


Posted in GAGD Explorer Summer 2015

Cyber security new necessity for dental practices

By Stuart J. Oberman, Esq.

The provision of health care is changing rapidly as providers try to maintain maximum efficiency while navigating a technology-rich climate. As a result of their reliance on electronic data, dental offices have become vulnerable to cyber security threats. The growing volume and sophistication of cyber attacks suggest that dental practices will have to grow increasingly vigilant to ward off these threats. A breach of cyber security will inevitably lead to significant expenses, both financial and reputational, which can wreak havoc on a dental practice.

Many dentists believe that cyber criminals are not a threat to their small dental offices. However, when choosing between a large corporation or bank with security teams and firewalls, or a dental office with no firewall or security team, a dental practice will become the target. In fact, many hackers specifically target small dental offices because they believe small businesses don’t have the resources for sophisticated security devices and do not enforce employee security policies.

Dental practices are becoming targets for cyber criminals more frequently. These offices hold a vast amount of data, including names, health histories, addresses, birthdates, social security numbers, and even banking information of hundreds, if not thousands, of patients. The threat of this information being stolen by a staff member or a cyber criminal is great, and dental practice owners must address this concern before a theft creates a legal nightmare for the practice.

Health care organizations make up roughly 33% of all data security breaches across all industries, and the health care industry is the most breached industry in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost 21,000,000 health records have been compromised since September 2009. It’s been shown that human error causes the majority of personal health information data breaches, and that the actions of health-care employees cause three times as many breaches as external attacks.

The most common causes of data breaches in health care organizations are theft, hacking, unauthorized access or disclosure, lost records and devices, and improper disposal of records. A significant proportion of health care breaches are a result of lost or stolen mobile devices, tablets, and laptops. Security breaches are not inflicted solely upon the large HMOs, as more than half of all organizations that suffer from security breaches have fewer than 1,000 employees.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires health-care providers to maintain the privacy of patient health information, and to take security measures to protect this information from abuse by staff members, hackers, and thieves. The penalties imposed on health-care providers for HIPAA violations are great. Monetary penalties can range from a $100 fine to a $50,000 fine per violation, with a $1,500,000 maximum annual penalty. In addition to federal penalties, dentists may face penalties imposed at the state level, as well as lawsuits filed by disgruntled patients whose health information was compromised.

It’s crucial for dentists to take steps to ensure that their practice is in compliance with HIPAA provisions regarding computer security. Because the majority of data security breaches occur when staff members exercise poor judgment or fail to follow office procedures, the location of computers in the dental office is key. All computers should be placed in areas where the computer screens are not visible to patients and visitors, and each computer should be protected with encrypted passwords. Passwords should contain mixed-case letters and numbers or symbols and should be changed regularly. Also, passwords should not be written down under keyboards or kept on desks or surfaces where the public could access them. Dentists should ensure that all staff members understand the importance of maintaining the privacy of patient health information.

Every dental practice should have a policy for safeguarding patient information, and should educate staff members about how to comply with the office policy. A strict Internet and computer policy that prohibits staff members from checking personal email accounts or visiting Internet sites that aren’t work-related should be enforced. It’s also important for dentists to make sure that all firewalls, operating systems, hardware, and software devices are up to date, strong, and secure, and that wireless networks are shielded from public view. Antivirus software should be installed on every computer, kept updated, and checked regularly.

When accessing office data remotely, dentists should use only trusted Wi-Fi hot spots and never use shared computers. Smartphones and tablets should be password protected to prevent easy access to patient information in case a device is lost or stolen. In addition, all hard copies of documents with patient information should be shredded. Finally, to make sure your dental practice is HIPAA compliant, data transmitted to payers, health plans, labs, and other health-care providers may need to be encrypted to ensure that a hacker will not have access to the data.

Because dental practices are subject to heightened government enforcement, and the scope of fines and penalties for data breaches have increased, many practices rely on cyber insurance for protection in the event of a breach. These policies cover the cost of investigating a theft, compensate the insured for all state and federal fines and penalties imposed, and fund all related lawsuits and legal fees, thus relieving the dentist of the financial and time burdens imposed by the security breach.

If a security breach in your office does occur, it’s imperative that you take appropriate action immediately. This includes determining how the breach occurred and the extent of the breach. You must be very careful who you initially contact and provide with information. Any improper or accidental disclosure to a third party other than legal counsel may be subject to the rules of discovery if litigation occurs, which could increase the liability exposure of the practice owner.

Stuart J. Overman, Esq.

Stuart J. Overman, Esq.

Stuart J. Oberman, Esq. handles a wide range or legal issues for the dental profession including cyber security breaches, employment law, practice sales, OSHA and HIPAA compliance, real estate transactions, lease agreements, non-compete agreements, dental board complaints and professional corporations.

For questions or comments regarding this article please call 770.554.1400 or visit

Posted in GAGD Explorer Summer 2015

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Posted in GAGD Explorer Summer 2015

Organized Dentistry – A Must for Your Future


By Carol A. Wooden, DDS, MAGD

Organized: Prepared, structured, planned, ordered, well thought out

As we see our professional horizon change with the threat of dramatic government led healthcare changes, midlevel providers, multiple economic woes, high levels of student debt, and many other obstacles that were not there just a few years ago, it is more important than ever to support those who are seeking solutions not only to protect the profession but to protect you, your future, and very importantly – your patients.

The most important protection against professional threats of all kinds comes from dentistry being organized well enough to fight these challenges. The single most important factor in dentistry being prepared is you. It is of paramount importance that you are part of the solution. Things you can easily do are: join, donate, and volunteer.

So let’s start with the minimum: you say you don’t have much time? Joining is as easy as writing a check or going online and clicking a few keys. It is a business expense. It can be a tax deduction. When I say join, I do not refer just to joining the Academy of General Dentistry (although that is one obvious goal!). All of dentistry is under fire in one way or the other at this time. If you believe others will be able to stand up to it all without you and your help, including your dues dollars, think again. There is no one who will be unaffected by ongoing and upcoming changes – be they general dentists, specialists, or the organizations that support them.

Join those who fight for you, who educate you, and who help you succeed. Join those from whom you and your profession gain direct benefit. Join your mother organization.  Join your specialty organization. Financially and otherwise support anyone who has your best interest at heart! In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, supporting as many formal organizations as you possibly can with your dollars is essential to long-term success. For all dentists, the American Dental Association (ADA, State DA, District DA) is our umbrella group.

All recognized specialties have their own specialty group (AAOMS, AAO, AAP, AAPD, and on and on). For those of us who are general dentists – the quarterback of the dental team – the “specialty” group  representing us is the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). And lest you think I forget such groups as

the National Dental Association (NDA), the Hispanic Dental Association (HDA) and the American Association of Women Dentists (AAWD), I do not. The profession of dentistry, depending on your age, has either been very good to you or will be very good to you. Giving back by the simple act of writing a check or clicking online will continue to protect the future of our great profession for those coming up now and those behind them – and the patients we all serve. It will protect and help you.

While you are writing checks or clicking online keys to join, consider donating! It takes very little more time to write or click more dollars. While dues dollars are a set amount, donations are a discretionary amount, so although I would always urge you to donate as much as possible, that also means you could donate less.

The amount is up to you, but any amount is very important. Often it can be done as an extra click or an added amount to your dues payments. The AGD has the AGD Advocacy Fund to be used for support of legislative goals and the ADA has ADPAC for the same purpose.  Both organizations have a Foundation that supports many professional and public outreaches.

The AGD Foundation thrust currently is to support education, diagnosis, and cures for oral cancer. Please donate to these and/or other causes that are near your heart.

Check with your accountant or financial planner for the best way to make that donation count for you as it will count for others.

And lastly, you can volunteer! Yes, volunteering takes a bit more time and a bit more energy, but the amount of time you spend is strictly up to you and your family, professional, or other priorities. You may already volunteer for your church or other civic group. Why not take some of your energy to volunteer for your profession and your lifestyle?

There are so many possibilities to volunteer dentally that it is impossible to even scratch the surface here. There are always opportunities to volunteer for shorter or longer stents with dental organizations such as the ones above in this article. There are always opportunities in your own office setting, locally, throughout the US, and abroad to volunteer and give back by performing dentistry through outreaches or other public and private events.

If you want suggestions on how and where to volunteer, it is often as close as the nearest dentist. Dentists are known for their compassion and giving nature. What we don’t do well is toot our own horn for doing good deeds. I am willing to bet that you won’t look far for a colleague who has gone on a mission trip, volunteers at a local clinic, or volunteers for organized dentistry in some way. Just ask them and they will tell you that they feel they get back a lot more than they give. There is also camaraderie and fun involved with volunteering on any level.

Volunteering is a rewarding and fulfilling way to give back to the profession that has been good to you. If you volunteer in organized dentistry, you can help mold the future for yourself and others. If you volunteer in patient care, you not only help that patient population but also assist in any real or perceived access to care problems – which again helps your profession. You are by virtue of your own head, hands, and/or heart part of the solution!

Please be a part of the solution! Join, donate, and/or volunteer now. Need some ideas for current volunteer opportunities? Go to

Posted in GAGD Explorer Spring 2015 | Tagged

The Quiet Client: Tells All


In 2011, our group provided a weekend practice management CE seminar for the GAGD Mastertrack group. At the close of the first day which had focused on articulating strong (not long) mission statements along with effective communication and leadership practices, we asked the dentists how many felt their front office personnel handled prospective patient phone calls well and made the types of impressions that were in line with their mission.

Of course, most if not all of the 24 participants raised their hands. What they were about to find out was that two of our consultants had called each of their offices acting as a first-time patient. The script stated that they were new to town and wanted to know if the receptionist could answer one of the following questions: “How much is a cleaning/root canal/or crown?” and “Do you offer dental sedation?” The calls were placed on a Wednesday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The number of rings, the greeting (if it was answered), hold time, how the patient’s questions were addressed, and if the receptionist had made the “ask” attempting to actually schedule an appointment were all recorded.

The results were eye-opening!

Findings included:

Common responses included providing the fee and then a “Thank you. Bye.” or “Do you have insurance?” which complicated the conversation quickly.

In some cases, calls were answered but if the receptionist could not answer the question, the caller was deferred to a specialist.

  • In six of the 24 offices, calls went unanswered, going straight to voice-mail.
  • Six of 24 asked for the caller’s name.
  • Ten of 24 gave their name. Ex: “Good afternoon. Dr. Jones office Renee speaking.”
  • Six of 24 asked the caller to make an appointment.
  • Five of 24 were friendly in tone and engaged with the caller.

To be fair, the next day we sat each of the dentists in chairs at the front of the room to “play” receptionist. We proceeded to act as distractors, a patient waiting to be checked out, another phone ringing in the background, and even as a UPS delivery person in order to show the dentists just how difficult this task may be.

Take-aways include:

  • First impressions are not magically going to be in line with how you want to be perceived.
  • Efforts to craft and script that first point of contact, the phone call, must be intentional!
  • Since up to 80 percent of the message’s meaning over the phone is based on vocal cues such as tone, pitch, and volume, sounding rushed and distracted is perceived as negative. Ideas for physical solutions include having a separate room away from the reception desk where callers could be given the full attention of the scheduling coordinator.
  • Empower receptionists to ask exploratory questions. What a better service if they can just take a minute to understand “why” the patient needs a crown and empathize.

“Goodness, did you break a tooth?” Let the patients tell their stories. They might not need a crown, root canal or sedation. It is just fear and worry that is compelling them to ask such a direct question. Maybe we are a second opinion, that’s okay too. Scripts help but we have to convey the right intention to engage the patient.

  • Discuss the need to encourage any new patient that is calling to consider a consultation with you as their new GP or at least learn more about the patient’s situation before passing the call off to another provider.
  • Consider hiring a “quiet client” who may even follow through with a full appointment to provide you with objective perspectives and feedback that could pave the way for designing better overall service.
  • Finally, know that these are issues and pointers for every office (no matter the industry) and are reasons to continually articulate your mission to your entire team and have that mission feed your strategic communication practices.

Symphony Dental Alexa ChilcuttDr. Alexa S. Chilcutt is a Communication Studies faculty member at The University of  Alabama and provides CE training with Symphony Dental in Atlanta.

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Posted in GAGD Explorer Spring 2015

Ransomware – Cyber Security Breaches in Dental Offices What You Must Know TODAY


Dental offices are now being hit with Ransomware (cyber blackmail).  If you own or work in a dental practice, you need to know what Ransomware is, and the ramifications of this serious security breach.

Ransomware Trojans are a type of cyberware that is designed to extort money from a dental office. Often, Ransomware will demanda “ransom” payment in order to release the hijacked dental office software.

The hijacking of dental office software can include:

  • Encrypting data and software that is used by a dental practice (Eagle Soft or Dentrix) – so that the dental office can no longer have access any type of patient information
  • Blocking normal access to the entire dental office software

How Ransomware Enters Dental Office Computers

The most common ways in which Ransomware is installed are:

  • Via phishing emails, or
  • As a result of visiting a website that contains a malicious program

After the Ransomware has infiltrated a particular computer or network, they leave a ransom message on the computer screen that demands the payment of BitCon Currency in order to decrypt the files or restore the system to its normal function. In most cases, the ransom message will appear when the user restarts their computer after the entire infiltration has taken place.

In order to keep on top of the latest cyber security breaches, we have taken the initiative to consult with cyber security forensic experts, in order to assist our dental clients, both before the breach occurs [for preventive measures] and after a breach occurs [to determine the extent of the damages].

If a dental office is infected with Ransomware, a practice could suffer a massive security breach, and be subject to huge HIPAA fines [$100.00 to $50,000.00 per violation, as well as $250,000.00 in criminal fines].

Protection Guidelines for a Dental Office

A security breach may be able to be prevented with certain guidelines. Below is a list of security guidelines that every dental practice should implement and follow:

  • Do not charge mobile devices via laptop and USB
  • Identify where sensitive data is stored and how it is protected
  • Perform an annual independent IT security assessment
  • Limit employee use of public Wi-Fi when accessing dental practice data
  • Examine the use of cloud storage for highly sensitive data
  • Continuously update software to close potential vulnerabilities
  • Encrypt portable devices (laptops, smartphones, USB)
  • Ensure that shared resources such as wireless printers are secure
  • Use two-factor authentication on privileged accounts
  • Minimize 3rd party access to sensitive data and network assets (vendors, contractors, practice consultants, etc.)
  • Design and implement a segmented network (servers, wireless, personal computers, etc.)

Unfortunately, data breaches can happen to small and large dental practices. In fact, some dental practices may have already been breached, and practice owners do not even know it. With the implementation of simple security guidelines, the security of dental office data can be substantially improved. Technology alone cannot prevent data breaches, the protection of patient information and other practice data must be a team effort.

Stuart Oberman EsqStuart J. Oberman, Esq. handles a wide range or legal issues for the dental profession including cyber security breaches, employment law, practice sales, OSHA and HIPAA compliance, real estate transactions, lease agreements, non-compete agreements, dental board complaints and professional corporations.

For questions or comments regarding this article please call 770.554.1400 or visit



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GA Academy of General Dentistry

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