Unfortunately, one of those pesky business matters affecting many dentists is embezzlement. Published statistics suggest that three in five dentists will be victimized by an embezzler in their careers.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about how best to manage this problem. Many well-intentioned advisors suggest that if the dentist simply checks more (or different) things each month, they will be able to detect embezzlement.
I recently made this response to a consultant who was advocating a checklist of things for a dentist to do or check monthly (I stopped counting at 80 items on the list):
“Respectfully, I think you are going at this in the wrong way.
I don’t have a specific objection to anything on this (very lengthy) list. However, I do object strongly to the underlying philosophy, which is to suggest that the way to control embezzlement in a dental office is to turn the dentist into an untrained, under-equipped, part-time auditor.
Most dentists I know, when given a list of this length, will simply throw up their hands and ignore the list. I haven’t tried to calculate the time that performing all tasks on this list would take, but I bet that it is 25 hours or more monthly. Since the number of hours in a week is constant, this time would come either from clinical or family time, and both have considerable value.
The other problem with the “dentist as auditor” concept is that it ignores the adaptability of embezzlers. Most successful embezzlers in dental offices are long-term employees. Their seniority means that they know their doctor well, including what he or she looks at on a monthly basis (and more importantly, what is not scrutinized). It is then simply a matter of finding a way to steal that is outside the dentist’s scrutiny. If you start looking at more, or different, items the thief simply switches methodologies and carries on stealing. Ultimately, there are fraud methodologies that NO system of controls and checks can stop.
Monitoring for fraud is actually far easier than most dentists and consultants think. Regardless of the specific embezzlement methodologies being employed, the behavior of thieves is remarkably predictable. Embezzlers want to control communication in their offices, do not want to take a vacation, resist upgrades or changes to practice management software, etc. If dentists can learn to identify behaviors consistent with embezzlement, they can quickly realize when it is happening. A benefit of the behavior-based detection approach is that it requires way less time than trying to self-audit, which means that it is far more likely that a dentist will do what is necessary.”
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