What does work at a dentist’s office look like for an insurance administrator? We asked this month’s Dental Health Partner of the Month, Debbie Jones of Orthodontic Associates in Baltimore, Maryland, that question, and she told us that it looks like a rewarding career spent helping people and working alongside inspiring co-workers. Debbie started out at the front desk, doing consultations and treatment planning with patients. From there, she became the insurance administrator of a multi-office practice serving the greater Baltimore area.
What originally attracted you to the field? What made you want to stay once you were in?
My son was in school, and I was looking for a part-time job. I found one at a general dentistry practice. I learned a lot from the owner’s wife, who was the office manager and very knowledgeable. I started working the front desk, answering phones and doing insurance claims.
When I left that job, I was looking for something full-time and closer to my home, and then I came across Dr. Miller’s practice. They had an opening for an insurance administrator, and I’d loved doing that at my previous job. Helping people figure out their coverage feels like solving a puzzle, and the codes for orthodontics are very easy to familiarize yourself with. With the doctor’s training and advice at this practice, I’ve learned a lot, too.
This is also a very nice place to work. The office feels like a family, and Dr. Miller in particular feels like a cousin. He has a great relationship with the doctors he works with. A lot of them started with us right out of dental school. Dr. Miller’s youngest son joined the practice just this past year, in fact!
What does an average day look like in your role?
Generally, I come in in the morning, check messages and email, and try to help patients who are having problems with their claims and insurance companies who have reached out to us for information.
Back when I first started out, most patients only had insurance from one carrier, and it rarely changed. Now, I would say at least 50% of our patients have dual coverage, so coordinating benefits gets interesting.
Talking to insurance company reps that really understand their product makes it an enjoyable experience. I’ve found Delta Dental’s reps are generally very stable and knowledgeable about their product. They’re easy to work with.
What do you think is the best way for a dentist’s office and an insurance carrier to work together to take care of patients?
Having good customer support and an easy-to-use an online system go a long way towards helping dentists care for their patients. It’s nice to be able to call on a phone and speak to a rep when need to reach out about an issue, but being able to get patients’ info with just a few clicks is very helpful.
September is Healthy Aging Month. What do you think dentists and dental office staff can do to best serve senior citizens and aging populations?
We don’t do general dentistry, so I don’t have much information on that. But I can tell you that Dr. Miller and his associates believe strongly that we should accept patients of all ages. We have patients who came in with problems that are caused by the natural aging process, and sometimes orthodontic treatment can help them and get them to a better place. So we advertise to and educate patients of all ages, not just teenagers or 20- and 30-somethings.
Dr. Miller offers free consultations with no obligations, and we go over the patient’s insurance and their payment options, and we emphasize start-to-finish total costs, so everything is very easy for people to understand.
What do you do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies you enjoy?
Well, my husband is an ex-chef. He does all the cooking, and we watch cooking shows together for fun. I’m also an avid reader. A few years ago, my son gave me an iPad, and I use it to download and read e-books.
Also, and I’m not going to be ashamed of saying it: I’m a huge Judge Judy fan, and I watch her every day. Finally, I spend a lot of time with my grandchildren. I have three, and the two older ones are involved in a lot of sports, so the whole family goes to their events.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your job, or if you were speaking to someone just starting today, what advice would you give?
What I would say is the thing my first office manager told me: It’s your job to know everything about the patient, the patient’s chart and the doctor’s treatment plan. Ask questions. Look at everything and review it closely.
I remember when I started, I would say, “Oh, I don’t really need to look at the patient’s treatment card, because that’s not my business.” And my office manager would tell me, “No, you have to know your patients and what the doctors are doing so that you can give the patients the best service.”
If you don’t know the answer to a question, find someone who does and ask. If you know the answers to questions, or where to find the answers, nothing can upset your day.
Is there anything that you wish dentists better understood about your role as an insurance administrator?
That’s a hard question. I would say, “If we do our job, you don’t have to worry about what’s going on.” I’ve known Dr. Miller a long time, and in this practice, the staff does a good job keeping on top of everything. Dr. Miller and his associates have explained their business philosophy to us and they’re always available when we have questions.
But we strive to not have any of the doctors worrying about patients’ insurance. Their main focus should be on the patient in the chair. They can lean on the staff, and we’re going to get it done.
Any last thoughts?
This is rewarding work. We’re not on the front lines of medicine, stitching people up or anything like that, but I do know that we’re helping people out. It’s rewarding to know that you’re providing a smooth experience for patients and making it something they don’t have to worry about.
We have patients we’ve treated since they were small, and patients who bring the children and grandchildren to us when they need care. My son introduced me to a friend of his, and she remembered me from helping her with her orthodontic treatment when she was a teen. That’s what I like about working in dental insurance. That and the flexible hours!
Congratulations to Debbie Jones of Orthodontic Associates for being our Dental Health Partner of the Month! We appreciate her taking the time to speak with us, and we know that the patients she’s helped make sense of their insurance coverage appreciate her, too.