The Importance of Tracking Appointments
“Boy, I have really slowed down over the past 12/24/36 months.” We are hearing this every day from concerned dentists calling in for assistance. Yes - we understand. It seems that when a practice is “busy” (making enough money to pay the bills, fund retirement and go on vacation annually), all is right with the world. On the flip side, when the practice is “not busy” (struggling to meet payroll, having to put the vacation on the credit card and then worrying about how to pay it back, and forget about funding retirement…you are lucky to pay yourself!) all is now NOT right with the world.
I would like to propose that what is broken in your practice now was broken in your practice 1-3 years ago - or more. You just didn't notice it then because you were making enough money to cover it all up. Now it has become much more evident that something different must be done to at least determine what you are doing and what you need to do differently. That is the key!
How many patients are present at the front desk for a recommended appointment each month? How many of them make an appointment and how many don’t? If they didn’t, do you know why? You should! If you are not as “busy” as you used to be and the number of new patients has not really changed that much, then something is wrong. Let’s see if the following scenario applies to your practice:
Mrs. Jones needs a crown on #15. The hygienist found part of the distal cusp fractured, took an intraoral photo for Mrs. Jones to see and brought it to your attention when you performed your periodic exam. You recommended a crown and told her that everything else looks good and you will see her again sometime. Mrs. Jones is “passed off” to the Schedule Coordinator, who is then informed by the hygienist that Mrs. Jones needs a crown on #15 and the hygienist bids Mrs. Jones farewell. The Schedule Coordinator asks Mrs. Jones if she would like to schedule an appointment for her crown and Mrs. Jones smiles and says that she “will think about it” and call back. Mrs. Jones is dismissed.
What kind of record is there of this transaction? At best, the hygienist created a treatment plan for a Crown on #15. Second best, the Schedule Coordinator created a treatment plan and maybe the patient signed it.
What should happen from a tracking/training standpoint?
Second - the hygienist should print a copy of the intraoral photo and give to the patient so she can see the crack (even circle it with a red pen) and keep the photo as a reminder of why she needs the crown in the first place. Ok - I know that some patients don't like to look at their own teeth since they are in denial. Those are the exceptions… and the ones that need to see the photos the most!
Third - The Schedule Coordinator should be more responsive to Mrs. Jones’ statement of “I will call you.” She could say something like, “Mrs. Jones, I know that Dr. Brown is concerned about this tooth since it is cracked. We don’t want it to crack more and become more difficult to repair. I have a great early morning appointment available on Thursday. Would that work for you?”
At least she should have offered to follow up with Mrs. Jones in two weeks. “Mrs. Jones, I know that Dr. Brown is concerned about this tooth due to the crack. Should I not hear from you in a couple of weeks, I know that he will be asking. May I call you if I don’t hear from you?”
The Schedule Coordinator should then confirm that she has the photo of the tooth that needs to be repaired. Maybe even paperclip a blank appointment card to it and tell Mrs. Jones that when she calls in a few days, she can write her appointment on the card. Upon the patient’s dismissal, the Schedule Coordinator “tracks” this transaction on the Appointment Tracking Form, which indicates the date, the patient’s name, the type of appointment it was, whether or not she scheduled, and if not, the plans for follow up.
You may discover that you have a 90% acceptance rate but you are not presenting enough treatment. Maybe your patients don't need treatment. On the other hand, maybe your treatment acceptance is only 60% and the primary reason is financial. You can't fix your problem if you don't know what your problem is. Start tracking your appointment acceptance today!
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