|I gave an interview last week for DentistryIQ, PennWell's terrific online site. (This interview should be available on the site later this month.)
When I was answering the questions that the editor put to me, I had a one of those epiphanic moments. I realized that one of the reasons that dentists have been spectacularly unsuccessful in controlling the embezzlement epidemic afflicting their profession (three in five dentists will be victims in their careers, clearly an alarming statistic) is that, for the most part, the consultants who advise dentists have been misdirecting them.
A search of the words "dental embezzlement" on the internet yields dozens of articles, including many written by some of the most recognizable names in the dental consulting world.
The majority of these articles have a common theme -- they advocate a set of policies and controls that a dentist needs to implement in order to "prevent" fraud. The number of controls recommended by the authors varies from six or seven to well over fifty. Each of these controls is designed to block a specific method of embezzling.
There are two problems with this approach; it is unlikely to be implemented, and even if it is, it is unlikely to succeed.
Dentists rightly consider their time to have considerable value; using that time as an untrained, ill-equipped auditor is not something most dentists will embrace.
I lost count some time ago of how many embezzlement matters I have been consulted on; suffice it to say that I have encountered many dental embezzlers, and I am probably in as good a position as anyone to understand how they think. These thieves are driven by powerful internal forces, and we should not expect either the possibility of being caught or a few flimsy control systems to deter them. We should also not expect them to follow policies set by the dentist when, by definition, they do not follow societal rules.
For these reasons, the approach advocated by these well-intentioned consultants is doomed to ineffectiveness.
Another consequence of the "controls stop fraud" thinking is that many embezzlement victims unnecessarily blame themselves for their plight. I've heard many dentists say things like "if only I had checked my day-end sheets daily, this wouldn't have happened".
What is being missed is the adaptive nature of thieves; if these dentists had been checking daysheets, the thieves would have simply used some other method for stealing that would have avoided the dentist's scrutiny.
For me, the irony is that 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 vacation, resist upgrades or changes to practice management software, etc. If dentists and their advisors can learn to identify behaviors indicating embezzlement, they can quickly realize when it is happening.
We have developed a scored behavior analysis checklist that I am happy to share with any dentist or consultant who emails us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Investing 10 minutes in completing this questionnaire could save you a bundle.
Thanks for reading,
Chief Executive Officer