Treatment Acceptance and Patient Satisfaction
Case File #342
“I haven’t collected a paycheck now in two months and I have to make a change,” lamented Dr. Blaine as he prepared to dismiss his Business Coordinator of one year. He continued to express his frustration, “My schedule is full of holes and my patients are complaining about having to pay in full at the desk when they haven’t had to do that in the past. I don’t think she gets it that it is not about the money.”
Looking over Dr. Blaine’s reports from the past and current revealed that key systems concerning patient/customer service were abruptly changed with the arrival of Bea, the new Business Coordinator. Long time patients were being asked to pay at time of service instead of allowing them to be billed for current services. Co-payments from PPO plans were not being estimated correctly, causing patients to overpay. Not returning the overpayment in a reasonable period of time caused the patient to mistrust the practice. These were patients with a long history of compliance in payment and in keeping their appointments.
It was discovered that recall cards were not being sent out as reminders any longer, causing a significant drop out of pre-scheduled patients. Patients like to know what to expect and also rely on the usual and customary, such as receiving a notice of upcoming scheduled appointments. Any changes to established systems need to be explained to patients ahead of time so that they understand what to expect in the future. Patients always have a choice to keep coming to you or go somewhere else for care if they are uncomfortable with the perceived quality of care.
When Dr. Blaine hired Bea, he asked her to collect at the time of service because the accounts receivables were too high. She did as requested without looking at the patient’s history in the practice. Her approach was uncompromising and a bit militant to Dr. Blaine’s established compliant patients. This approach was showing up in the treatment acceptance statistics as a failure of patients to book appointments out of fear of having to pay too much out of pocket and not being able to negotiate any other payment options.
Trust levels were dropping in the recall department because the always relied upon notice was not being sent. Dr. Blaine decided to hire a new dental hygienist; one who shared his vision and his patient care philosophy. She reinstituted the recall notice, but changed it to be a letter type reminder so that she could insert a personal note and some educational material for the patient. She also designed an email recall reminder for those patients who requested email. Her closing remarks to the patients at the end of the appointment always included what they should do upon receipt of the reminder letter and the importance of keeping scheduled professional cleanings and examinations.
To increase treatment acceptance, the hygienist took the intra-oral camera that was collecting dust in the corner, and began using it on every patient to demonstrate the necessity of the diagnosed treatment. The time worn saying of a “picture is worth a thousand words” is true when it comes to gaining treatment acceptance. Taking the extra effort to educate and demonstrate moved the patients from passive to action.
Staff turnover is not ideal unless it is a change for the better. Tell your patients that the change is to serve them better and share what the new staff member brings to the team to improve patient care. Before again going through the process of hiring, make sure to define the vision and mission statement of the practice. Hire someone who shares your philosophy and is willing to communicate daily on improving relationships with patients.
Happily, Dr. Blaine’s practice is moving in the right direction. Patients are happier and they are accepting the treatment presented by the doctor and supported by the hygienist, the dental assistant and the business coordinator, who all share a common philosophy of health and total patient care.
Before you hire, talk to McKenzie Management about taking an Advanced Business Training Course. You will learn how to attract and keep the best people for your practice, and thus avoid the expensive pitfalls experienced by Dr. Blaine.
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