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5.2.08 Issue #321 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Nancy Caudill
Senior Consultant
McKenzie Management
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New Patients…Are They Impressed or Depressed?

Dr. Stu Carter – Case Study #98

In many dental offices, obtaining and retaining patients is a challenge. Dr. Carter's office was no exception. Over the past five years, the number of new patients (those patients that were seen for a comprehensive exam and professional cleaning) had declined from 28 patients to less than 20 a month. Dr. Carter wondered what was happening. At least he was aware of the decline. Without proper monitoring of basic practice statistics on a monthly basis, this fact would not have been known but possibly “felt” as the scheduled production dwindled. As part of the practice analysis, the "New Patient Exam" was evaluated. 

New Patient Exam Observations:

  • The patient was greeted with a "Hello….and you are?" question! The receptionist was nice enough but not "warm and fuzzy.”
  • The clipboard with the paperwork was given to the patient with instructions to "complete and give back to me as quickly as you can so we can get you back.”
  • The clinical assistant herded the new patient from the reception area, down the hall and around the corner. The patient was observed trying to keep up with her, as if it was a race to the operatory.
  • The patient was seated and the first statement from the assistant to the new patient was, "OK, Mrs. Brown, I am going to take quite a few x-rays so Dr. Carter can see what is going on in your mouth."  The office does not have digital radiography.
  • While the assistant was developing the full series of radiographs, Mrs. Brown was left to "twiddle her thumbs"-- no educational video, music or magazine.
  • Finally, about 15 minutes later, the assistant returns, along with Dr. Carter. Dr. Carter enters the operatory, introduces himself and the first thing he says to the new patient is, "Mrs. Brown, I am going to lay you back here and I will take a look at what is going on in your mouth."
  • He calls out numbers and letters foreign to Mrs. Brown, evaluates her radiographs, and says to her, "Mrs. Brown, I see some areas of concern. Tooth #3 has an old MOD amalgam that will need a PFM, Tooth #11 will need a DI composite and #31 might need endodontic therapy followed with a Post and Core and gold PFM. Do you have any questions?

 Was Mrs. Brown impressed by her initial visit with Dr. Carter?  No. She did not make a follow-up appointment for treatment.

"I have not changed anything about the way I present treatment to my new patients.  Why do I need to change now?"  Dr. Carter asked. His internal referral base had dwindled and the statistics show that his new patients are not accepting his treatment recommendations. It was time to make necessary changes to a failing system.

Recommendations to Dr. Carter to WOW his new patients

  1. The initial telephone call is vital to set the tone of the office. The Scheduling Coordinator must be able to "smile" on the phone. The very first statement she/he makes is, "Thank you so much for calling our office!"  The last statement she/he makes is, "Thank you again for calling our office.  We look forward to seeing you."
  2. The arrival of the new patient should be anticipated with a greeting by name from the Scheduling Coordinator. A simple and friendly introduction such as, “Good morning Mrs. Jones.  I am Suzie and I spoke with you on the phone a few days ago.  It is so nice to meet you", will make the patient feel welcome.
  3. When the clinical assistant comes to escort the patient to the treatment facility, she/he also introduces herself to Mrs. Jones and welcomes her to the practice as does any other member of the team who happens to be within a few feet of the patient.
  4. The clinical assistant seats Mrs. Jones and asks her a few "get to know you" questions before she places the bib, puts on gloves and puts the treatment chair in a semi-prone position. The assistant sits at eye level with Mrs. Jones to facilitate establishing rapport.
  5. As the radiographs are being developed, Mrs. Jones should be offered something to drink and asked if she would like to view an educational video about the practice and its services.
  6. Take blood pressure readings on all new adult patients. You may save a life and it is definitely a "valued added" service. Even though dental offices should do these screenings they are often overlooked. It is important to explain to the patient that he/she will be receiving an "oral cancer screening" and tell the patient how it is done and what you are looking for. Patient’s value both of these services and can see the relationship of dental health and overall body health if it is explained.
  7. Use the intra-oral camera on all new patients. Pictures are worth a 1,000 words.  Allow the patient to "co-diagnose" their conditions right along with you.
  8. When the doctor enters the treatment room, the patient should be sitting up so that he/she can introduce himself/herself, ask a few "get to know you" questions and review her medical history. Then he/she can recline the patient and begin the examination.
  9. Talk to your assistant in language the patient can understand. "Suzie, Mrs. Jones has a large, old, silver filling on her upper right first molar with a broken edge that will need a nice porcelain crown so she can chew again on that side."
  10. When presenting the treatment plan, involve the patient in the discussion. Ask her how she feels about what you have shared with her. Encourage her to ask questions so you can answer them now instead of her asking the Financial Coordinator later. Use visual aids to demonstrate. A closing statement might be, “Mrs. Jones, I know that you are concerned about that tooth with the large crack in it. I recommend we start there. I have available time this week.”

The most important part of the New Patient Exam is the time that is spent with the patient. In most cases, 30 minutes should be ample time to conduct your exam and make recommendations. If it is a complex treatment plan, express this to the patient and invite the patient to return for a review of your findings and a discussion of the options. Invite the patient to bring along a spouse or another person who may be involved in the decision making process.

It is not acceptable to "breeze in and breeze out" of a comprehensive new patient exam.  It is necessary for the Scheduling Coordinator to schedule enough time so that the dentist does not appear to be “hurried” through the information.

Your goal is to impress your new patient with valued added services, friendliness and an experienced eye for detail pertaining to the patient's health and well-being. You want your patient to leave impressed, not depressed!

If you would like more information on how McKenzie's Practice Enrichment Programs can help you IMPLEMENT proven strategies, e-mail info@mckenziemgmt.com

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