02.20.09 Issue #363 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Current Economy Calls For Different Approach
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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I don’t know about you, but I am getting to the point where I would rather leave the newspaper out on the doorstep than bring it into the house and read page after page of bad news.

I would much rather go about my routine as if none of it were happening. Unfortunately, I can’t and neither can you. Your patients are living those headlines. They are facing the fear of job loss, the stress of the mortgage crisis and the worry of shrinking retirement funds. For some offices, such stress on the patients is translating into stress on the practice. The ripple effect is appearing as some of those tried and true methods that worked so well during prosperous times aren’t yielding the same results.

For example, I recently heard from a practice that has had tremendous success in following up with patients who had diagnosed but unscheduled treatment. Until recently, the practice’s approach worked very well. However, they have had a couple of incidents in which their proven strategy hit the skids—and hard.

The most recent episode involved a patient who was in for a hygiene appointment during which the doctor diagnosed a cracked tooth. A few weeks later, a member of the business team called the patient to ask about scheduling an appointment for a crown. The patient reacted very negatively and, not only did the patient refuse to schedule a crown appointment because of being “pressured,” he also cancelled his next hygiene appointment. Ouch. Needless to say, the situation was very troubling. Moreover, the practice has been encountering sporadic negative reactions to their follow-up approach.

Understandably, it would be easy to hit the panic button and issue an edict to staff that the office is hereby suspending all treatment follow-up phone calls to patients. But that would be a mistake. So what should this practice do? Documentation and communications are critical as there are some unanswered questions.

When the patient was told at his recall appointment that he had a cracked tooth that needed a crown, how did he react? Was the patient told specifically that he would need treatment right away? Or was the patient told something vague, such as, “Mr. Jones, we’re going to need to keep an eye on that tooth”? If the patient was told specifically that he needed a crown, how did the patient react? Did he say, “It’s not a good time right now; is there something else we can do?” Did he say, “I really can’t move forward on any treatment right now”? Or did he say nothing when the doctor told him? Documenting exactly what transpires in a situation like this is essential so that the person responsible for follow-up knows exactly what comments are exchanged and can better assess how the patient should be approached.

If the exchange had been fully documented, the business employee might have read the notes and realized that Mr. Jones was going through a difficult time, was not going to schedule an appointment and a phone call was probably not going to be the best approach. Instead, she might have opted for a reassuring letter to the patient to tell him that the doctor understands this is not a good time for the patient to proceed with recommended treatment and, when Mr. Jones is ready, the practice will do everything it can to help him with financial arrangements and ensure that he receives the care he needs. The letter could further urge the patient to keep the practice apprised of how the tooth is doing and to call the office right away if he experiences any pain or discomfort. This approach conveys understanding and compassion.

In addition, if Mr. Jones has been a long-term dedicated patient who has consistently kept his appointments, pursued recommended treatment and paid his bills it is essential to let him know that he is appreciated. This may be a difficult time for him and his negative reaction could have been triggered by any number of reasons, but it is crucial that he feel valued as a patient and as a person and not just as practice production.

Next week: Is your practice passive or responsive to patient worries?

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

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