Preventing Embezzlement in Your Dental Practice: What Every Dentist Should Know
Episode #560 with Amber Weber-Gonzales
Almost half of all dentists will experience embezzlement in their careers. What's worse, it can happen more than once! You need safeguards in place, and Kirk Behrendt brings in Amber Weber-Gonzales, head of Prosperident’s Proactive Services Group, to share their best practices to help you protect your business. Your practice is like your patients’ oral health — be proactive and preventative to keep it healthy! To learn more about deterring embezzlement and catching it early, listen to Episode 560 of The Best Practices Show!
Links Mentioned in This Episode:
Trust and verify.
Create a process of transparency.
Know which key reports to focus on.
Implement a solid end-of-day process.
Do your due diligence before hiring anyone.
Learn the common red flags of an embezzler.
Practice good habits with passwords and emails.
“Almost 50% of dentists, at least one time in their profession, their career, will have embezzlement occur. It’s a large number. And it doesn't usually occur just one time. In our experience at Prosperident, of those 50% that have embezzlement occur, 11% of dentists who had it occur, it happens twice. Four or more times, we see about 8% of repeat clients of the ones who've already had it occur. So, it’s not a one-and-done type scenario. It’s a recurring, revolving door, especially with the change in staff and things like that. So, there's a 50% chance it’s going to happen to you. We’re seeing those statistics come up from what they used to be, sometimes in the 60, 70 percentiles.” (4:16—5:07)
“The majority of cases where we find theft or embezzlement is from a long-term, trusted employee. And part of that is you build a relationship, the psychology behind it. It’s almost like your work-marriage type scenario. And so, yes, Sally’s been there for 25 years. You trust, but sometimes forget the verification part. That's one of the things that I oversee with Prosperident, is we really want to teach practice owners how to have transparency with their team members, whether they’ve been there for 20 years, or two years, or two months.” (6:06—6:44)
“Trust but verify. That's one of the biggest sayings that has been instilled in me. I think that comes from my ranching background in Wyoming. You're out there and you're like, ‘I think those are my animals over there.’ But you still have to verify because there are other people that are doing the same thing as you, livestock. I know that's an interesting analogy, but that's where that comes from. What you see sometimes is not always what you're going to get.” (7:28—7:53)
“In the dental world, we’re all about documentation and attention is in the details. When you go enter a clinical note, you make sure all the details are there, no different from the business aspect of your practice. So, where’s the verification for you to ask questions to have that transparency with your team? If you were to ask a question, can they easily and readily not just give you the answer but also show you how they have verified and have the documentation to stand behind what's happened with a patient’s account?” (8:11—8:41)
“One of the main things that I really want to focus on when I interact with clients is having really specific and clearly outlined methods and documentation on end-of-day closing. What that means is, at the end of the day, after seeing ten patients and done 22 hygiene exams or whatever, are you going to have the time to put on a different hat and say, ‘I'm going to print off all these reports 100% on my own through the software’? In a perfect world, you would say, ‘I'm going to go ahead and put on my business hat. I'm going to print off all my reports at the end of the day, and I'm going to make sure everything lines up.’ But sometimes, my saying to a lot of practice owners is you have to delegate to elevate.” (9:21—10:02)
“One of the most important things that I try to help doctors instill is a really good end-of-day process. Make sure there's true separation of responsibilities. You have an active team that is going to help you obtain daily reports of what occurred in your practice, and it’s not just one individual team member like Sally, the office manager. So, there's true separation of responsibilities, and there's that verification that everybody is participating. So, the verification and the trust process of how that is being completed is better, and that they also know that, ‘This doctor or the person that I'm working for or working with, they want to know what's happened. While they’ve been working on patients, they want to understand what's happened in the business. And at the end of the day, they want that documentation put together, and we have to provide that to them in a regular manner.’” (10:06—11:01)
“One of the main things we see with people who embezzle is they're very territorial. So, if their co-worker wants to take over helping them with part of their job, or, ‘Hey, I'm going to go ahead and run these reports for the day,’ they don't want anybody touching that. The same thing happens when a doctor starts to take over some of their territorial duties. ‘Hey, I want to go ahead and run that report today,’ or, ‘Hey, I want to look at that.’ That transparency starts to disappear because they don't want to be transparent. They don't want to give you the answers or be able to say, ‘Yeah, sure. Go ahead. Let me help you do that. Do you need help?’ And so, that's one of the reasons that we’re so about transparency. You should be able to ask a question at any moment, ask for a document at any moment, and there should be no hesitation.” (14:13—15:01)
“We’re all about protecting the financial integrity of your practice. So, for me, the main reports [to focus on] is, I want to see exactly the revenue details that occur so that you have something to reference to where your revenue actually goes, meaning your bank account. So, let's make sure what is recorded in the software is actually what has occurred financially for your business. That's one of the main key reports I always tell practices to focus on, is understanding the details of daily revenue so that you can track that on a monthly basis.” (15:13—15:45)
“You need to randomly check and make sure that the passwords and email that you have on file, for example, insurance, different things like that, truly work. And in my experience, what I've seen happen is Sally, that front desk manager — you have it in a spreadsheet. Let's say you don't use LastPass or those other programs that store that and help you make sure it’s safeguarded. I've seen this a lot where it’s spreadsheets or written in a notebook. When Sally leaves and you go to access things, what you have on your file, you can't access it. And we’ve experienced that so many times at Prosperident where even to complete employee payroll, you can't do that. Or you go to log in to order stuff off Amazon for the business, and it’s locked down because it was changed at some point, and you weren't aware of that.” (16:21—17:15)
“One of my top silly things right now [that dentists do] is Amazon, where we order everything for the practice through Amazon, but there's no true verification and everybody can get on Amazon and have a free-for-all. So, that's one of my things, is Amazon. I'm pretty big on that. Another thing is business credit cards where the business credit card is on file and used for a lot of stuff, and they keep a copy of it up at the front. And if they need to order lunch, or they need to do different stuff, everybody can have access to that.” (19:39—20:14)
“I recommend [having individual credit cards], especially if you're going to have an office manager or somebody that is your business team leader — obviously, she needs to be able to take care of business and the needs sometimes daily. I do recommend that that person have their own individual card. That allows accountability with that person too because they know it’s easier for him to look at everything that I am completing versus what the doctor is completing. So, it gives that separation of oversight. So, your own individual credit card for you, as a practice owner, and then the team would have their own different card with different numbers. It allows for oversight and accountability.” (20:50—21:30)
“Obviously, everything is in a digital world. So, your team will be responsible for deposits. But what I want to reiterate about that is it should not just be one individual person that's responsible for that. If you are physically taking deposits to the bank, at Prosperident, we've always recommended that the doctor be in charge of that so that there's a little bit more safeguarding in physical type payments such as cash, checks, things like that. So, making sure that no one individual person is in control of not just revenue received but how that revenue is being entered into your bank, making sure there's true separation and oversight.” (23:17—24:03)
“We’ve come across practices like that [that don't collect cash]. But I still think, sometimes, that's just not going to happen. I mean, depending on the practice. And that's where, as an owner, okay, you say that you're not collecting any cash; it’s zero. The oversight on that to see if you actually were would take a lot of understanding the software and details and where to double-check for that. So, that's something you'd want to contact us for so we could teach you how to make sure, if you say you're not collecting cash, that you aren't collecting cash and it’s being misappropriated somewhere.” (24:18—24:56)
“One of the main best practices, in my experience, we see a lot of change right now happening with staff members. So, I think really doing thorough checks on who you're hiring, and smart hiring, making sure you're doing reference calls and double-checking who’s walking through the door so that you're not bringing somebody in that maybe has a history of embezzlement, but they were able to hide it pretty easily. And I know that's difficult right now because everybody is struggling to find staff. But I think, for me, one of the most important things right now from a preventative aspect is really screening who you're hiring so you don't bring somebody in that maybe is not going to align with protecting that financial integrity of your practice.” (25:47—26:33)
“One of the main things I've seen lately is change of timeline. Meaning, somebody turned their resume in to you, they say they were the office manager, they oversaw accounts payable, managed all the insurance. I mean, they are super qualified. And they maybe stayed at a job, let's say, seven years. And when you get on your good friend Google, and you make sure that their reference numbers are true, and you contact these previous people, sometimes, what is on that resume, just like David [Harris] said, is not always true. They maybe didn't have that actual duty — maybe for the last three months of their job. Or they didn't work there the entire time. They changed the numbers a little bit to not show a small area of unemployment, or things like that.” (28:05—28:54)
“If somebody wants to embezzle, say you hire somebody new, and everything checks out perfect. If they truly want to embezzle, we’re not going to 100% stop them. But with a system of oversight, we’re going to deter it. And hopefully, if you're following protocol, you can catch it earlier rather than later.” (32:49—33:07)
“Part of the service that we offer, if a doctor chooses, is we will have interaction with some of your key team members to teach them and help them understand the system and help implement it. It’s not just about protecting the practice owner. As a former team member, it’s about protecting my safeguards too. I want to make sure everything is in place so that if somebody were embezzling that was a co-worker, number one, I'll catch it early. And number two, there are safeguards in place so that the software is set up or things are set up correctly to where I'm not taking the fall. Somebody is not coming to me and saying, ‘Amber, you were supposed to oversee all of the insurance. What happened? This is messed up,’ and I don't have a good system of transparency to provide. So, I tell team members this isn't just about protecting the owner of the practice. This is about protecting you, also, and your integrity and abilities in the practice.” (35:20—36:22)
“This really relates to what our purpose is in oral health. We want to be as preventative and keep things as healthy as possible. And so, I think at Prosperident we feel the same way. We want to help doctors keep things as healthy as possible. And while we’re always going to probably be doing investigations for some practices, if we can prevent a doctor from having a huge loss in the practice because we helped them have a great system of oversight and implementation, that's the reward in itself.” (36:43—37:14)
1:53 Amber’s background.
4:00 Why this is an important subject in dentistry.
5:10 Embezzlement is not clear-cut.
7:06 Trust and verify.
9:08 Have a good end-of-day process.
11:21 Three heads are better than two.
13:19 Create a process of transparency.
15:04 Key reports to focus on.
15:46 Best practices for passwords and emails.
17:15 Why you need to use LastPass.
19:07 Top things to not do.
20:22 Suggestions for credit cards.
23:12 Suggestions for deposits.
24:03 Are you truly not collecting cash?
24:57 Disable credit card sharing.
25:33 Do your homework before hiring.
26:34 Look for what you can't see on a resume.
28:55 Things to ask previous employers.
30:48 More about Prosperident and how they can help you.
36:23 Last thoughts.
37:20 How to get in touch with Amber or David Harris.
Amber Weber-Gonzales Bio:
Amber Weber-Gonzales began working in the dental field as a Registered Dental Hygienist in 2005. With a background in accounting and her interest in the business side of dentistry, she moved into office management roles and, ultimately, into dental consulting. Before joining the Prosperident team, Amber discovered embezzlement taking place in one of her client’s offices, bringing to light her aptitude for the kind of investigative and preventative work she now performs for our clients. Amber was recently the runner-up in the prestigious Spotlight on Speaking competition, featuring dentistry’s best-emerging speakers, and has been published in Dentistry Today magazine. In June 2022, Amber was appointed the head of Prosperident’s Proactive Services Group, which provides embezzlement prevention services to individual practices, groups, and DSOs.