In the current economy, satellite offices are frequently utilized by orthodontists to increase their area of draw and patient base. Most orthodontists and consultants feel that the additional income offsets the additional overhead expense, but managing multiple office locations clearly requires more effort than maintaining only one location. However, current technology has helped make managing multiple locations easier. One dramatic example that most orthodontists now utilize is electronic charting, so that patient information is easily available at all office locations. Here are a few other tips and tricks to consider:
- Centralized/Cloud-Based Documents: Most offices ensure that all patient information in their practice management software is either on a centralized server or cloud-based, but many offices are not as attentive to all of their supporting documents. Your satellite office should be able to run exactly like your primary office if desired. It is relatively easy with current technology to ensure all computers have access to centralized training manuals, patient handouts, and current projects. More limited access can be setup for the doctor and select staff to access more confidential information. Multiple methods can be used to achieve this, such as a shortcut to a shared document folder on the server (if a terminal server is used at the satellite office) or online cloud-based storage such as iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Please note that iCloud and Dropbox are not HIPAA compliant and Google Drive requires some adjustments to be HIPPA compliant, so these are not ideal solutions for PHI. The goal is that each practice location should have electronic resources in the same location for easy reference and there should be little to no effort to keep them synchronized.
- Mileage tracking mobile apps: Deducting business mileage or tracking business miles on the company vehicle can provide a nice tax savings, but maintaining an accurate ledger to satisfy the IRS can be difficult. Multiple mobile apps are available to help keep an accurate log of business miles, such as Mileage Log+, MileagePad, Auto Miles, and Triplog. Some apps will automatically track when you are driving and then miles can be categorized later. Most allow you to export spreadsheets or expense reports for a nice end-of-year summary. Prices are generally under $10.
- Remote locks and thermostats: I may be slightly biased since our practice is located in Wisconsin, but having a remote thermostat to ensure that heat is turned down when we are not at our office and that the office is warm when we arrive really helps staff morale at the start of the day! Also, there are coded locks available for your front door that allow you to remotely issue one-time use codes for contractors to access the building. Multiple permanent codes can also be set, which allows you to monitor who is entering your office. For example, cleaning staff can be given a unique code so you are aware of when they are onsite. These generally are a few hundred dollars to install, but avoiding extra trips to let in contractors or paying for additional heating/cooling bills can make it worth the expense.
- Phone lines: Phone systems are a much larger topic, but it is worth at least briefly mentioning that having lines ring at only one location and going to voicemail if they are not answered is outdated. For offices with multiple locations, some type of VOIP system should be strongly considered, which allow lines to be answered and transferred independent of geography. Even with a traditional phone system, look into the additional features offered by the phone company. Generally, lines can be forwarded on certain days of the week and calls that are not answered in a certain amount of time can be forwarded to the other office (assuming the other office is staffed).
Overall, managing a satellite office can be less stressful using current technology, but some effort must be spent up front to design the correct systems and to implement them.