Rafael “Bong” Sto-Tomas of Synapse Dental Billing: Staying Ahead of the Game In The Post-Covid Era

An Exclusive Interview with the
President of Operations

During an unprecedented time like the coronavirus crisis, business leaders were called to take urgent actions without falling prey to the pressures of the new healthcare landscape. This set off a chain of events that almost certainly altered the course of dental billing. However, Synapse Dental Billing used the difficult challenges to leverage the potential opportunities to grow and develop into the successful company it is now today.

As part of our mission to provide world-class customer service, we have the pleasure of interviewing Rafael Sto-Tomas.

He is a successful business leader with over 30 years of experience developing and guiding various practices and companies across the country in dental billing, practice management software, and eligibility verification services. Currently, he serves as the President of Operations at Synapse Revenue Cycle Management, a medical and dental billing company that helps providers achieve their revenue goals and more focused patient care through innovative software developments.

Mr. Sto Tomas is affectionately known as “Bong” and is recognized for his ability to identify impending problems, spot loopholes and errors, and solve them with his critical thinking skills and software development skills, earning the respect and high regard of his colleagues and staff.

He has spearheaded projects for software development for Citibank for 15 years and the deployment of ATM networks across America and Southeast Asia.

Mr. Bong received his B.S. in Business/Managerial Economics from the University of the Philippines.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! I know that you are a very busy person. We wanted to give our readers a glimpse into getting to know you, so can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in dental billing?

Back in July 2008, I was with a partner who was a dentist and owned an existing dental billing and consulting company. He knew the clinical side of dental billing, but not the technology side, so my main contribution was helping him deploy the billing services remotely. Way back many clinics took x-rays on film and sent the same with paper claims via the US postal service. We assisted these clients in moving to newer versions of practice management software that supported digital radiographs and the submission of electronic claims.

Here’s the story of our first client.
It was Rene Richardson, President of Synapse Revenue Cycle Management, my brother-in-law, who contacted a doctor who was married to a dentist. I used to go to her clinic every day to observe the processes and applied them on the computer. Since they didn’t have the resources to move to digital radiographs, we scanned them through a lightbox to digitize them. We had to learn the shorthand each clinic used to designate specific procedures until they purchased our software. To this day, we have the pleasure of having them as clients.

What has been the most surprising with the growth of Synapse over the last few years? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I was surprised at how Synapse doubled in size in the number of staff to support the scale of covid testing that our lab customers took in. In addition, we hired some 130 staff in a period of 3 months to add a completely new service (covid test proctoring). Other new services added during this time were verification of covid vaccination cards and customer support for covid testing operations.

I really salute our HR staff and managers who were quick and nimble to take a new product while working from home. Even though nobody saw each other in person, we helped each other build our product for Inspire, one of our clients, a VCSR (Video Customer Service). What it tells me is that we have the organizational skills to introduce new services and scale up rapidly. We are able to find good talent, train, deploy and grow very quickly.

How would you describe your leadership style?

By exception, no news is good news. Upper management provides direction and supports all other managers to be successful. I trust my managers to be able to make the right decisions. However, when impending problems arise, I need to be informed so that I can aid in the decision-making process. Upper management is here to provide the necessary tools for our employees to be successful.

“My leadership style is about motivating and encouraging people to do better so that they can do more.”

What inspires you to get out of bed in the morning? Can you share a particular book or poem you read, a person you look up to, that really helps motivate you to work?

Since I come from a software development background, I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the job. Trying to figure out ways to be able to do things is very rewarding to me. It’s about finding an elegant solution to a problem. I don’t mind doing deep dives during our meetings because there’s always something you can do to make things more efficient and better. If there are accounts that need my assistance, I don’t hesitate to join in and try to work out a process that is different from what others are doing.

Thank you for sharing all of that. Now, our readers would like to know how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the healthcare industry, especially dental billing. Can you share the moment you realized COVID-19 is a serious and very alarming global health crisis?

Well, it was actually quite traumatic. All of a sudden our offices in the Philippines along with the clinics had to shut down for a couple of months. Still, we needed to be able to support the businesses when they come back up. When we returned to operations, we called in a core group of people to live in the offices in Quezon City and Ortigas City in the Philippines. Eventually, we had to put up a scheme of how people could work from home, emptying the offices of the PCs and delivering their equipment to their homes. We transitioned completely as a work-from-home company.

What were the main challenges that you faced amidst the pandemic and how did you manage them?

It’s easier to build a work culture if you see the people every day, but in the case of remote work, you have to be more intentional. The challenge is to get people to participate virtually and be engaged in a feeling of community. We used to go out to lunch or breakfast together, but we only do that virtually now. I miss seeing the people. Sometimes, when you’re in the office, you can learn things from just overhearing someone from the other cubicle, right? You’re learning something valuable just by listening in, but that doesn’t happen anymore. So we needed to adjust and find new tools that will make people work more efficiently and monitor them. We came up with a real-time quota system that helps us review all the processes to make sure they’re efficient.

Since we are in the post-Covid economy and potential opportunities are arising, what do you personally foresee Synapse Dental Billing to explore or achieve in the near future?

The American economy is growing so quickly. The unemployment rate is at 3% and that means full employment. In the last year and a half the last eight months after COVID, the wages of people have increased in real terms. So there’s a lot of opportunity for outsourcing things because not only are they not able to find people, but when they find them, they have to take a lot of money in the US.

In Synapse, we started to introduce the virtual front desk for dental offices and implemented three offices in Metro California and one in Southern California. We’re getting a Spanish speaker to be able to experiment with servicing by using a bilingual CSR to service specifically a lot of bilingual communities.

“The future of Synapse is voice services, so that means to say, customer service of any kind in any industry. We’re looking at doing accounting services, and other back-office services, for dental and medical clinics.”

Also, something happened when people all of a sudden stopped working, came back home, and then took a long break. They said, “You know, I want to be able to have that life again.” So a lot of people are looking for jobs where they can work from home. There’s a lot of opportunity in outsourcing a lot of things that are done, not only in big corporations but also in medium to medium-sized businesses as well. That’s where we need to go post-COVID.

What are a few ideas that you have to offer support to future leaders in the dental billing industry?

I think for anyone to be successful, you have to find joy in what you want. In what you’re doing the time you’re doing it. Otherwise, you’re just a paid hack. I think my observation is that people who find enjoyment in what they do when they’re doing it are those truly successful. Why? They don’t have to wait for the future to discover enjoyment in what they’re doing. It’s here in the now – that is what success is.

How are you pursuing personal growth and development?

I try to be health conscious, you know, and watch what I eat and exercise. To achieve balance and stay grounded, I do meditations as well. I am a believer in positive affirmations in trying not to be negative. For example, when I see something or if I look at somebody, I always try to find what’s good in that person, instead of saying, what’s wrong with this person? I believe that everybody has a creative energy that you have to let flow through, but it could be blocked by overthinking. So I try to be more positive and let the answers reveal themselves with self-affirmations.

Readers can follow the work of Mr. Rafael Sto-Tomas by visiting our company website and contacting him at rafael@synhs.com

Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights. We wish Synapse’s continued success and for your good health!