Who’s Your Treatment Advocate?
Fifty thousand dollars going once! One hundred grand going twice! Half-a-million bucks, gone! No, we’re not bidding on a world-famous painting at Sotheby’s or Christie’s. Rather, it is the tens of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars that practitioners let slip away on a regular basis. It is occurring in practice after practice, and it doesn’t happen with great fanfare. Rather it is a quiet, subtle, and subversive process.
Consider “Dr. Roth.” He describes himself as a conservative dentist who takes pride in diagnosing only what the patient needs. He is successful by his standards and believes that he has very good case acceptance. Case in point, one of his patients, “Mr. White,” needs a crown. He has a cracked molar that needs attention. Dr. Roth has shown Mr. White with the intraoral camera where the problem lies. He has explained what can happen if treatment is not pursued. Mr. White knows he needs to take action. He knows how much the crown will cost. “I’ll check my schedule and give you a call,” he says as he leaves the office. Dr. Roth expects that Mr. White will indeed schedule the appointment promptly. After all, Mr. White has seen the tooth and Dr. Roth has thoroughly explained the need for treatment. As far as the doctor is concerned, he could “write the book” on how to present treatment.
But Mr. White is busy, and he forgets about that cracked tooth. After all, it’s not like it’s bothering him. He’ll get to it eventually. The daily demands of work, family, and other responsibilities compete for his attention. Personal “unpleasantries” like a time-consuming dental appointment are relegated to “I’ll get to it later” status.
As for Dr. Roth, he doesn’t give Mr. White a second thought until one day he decides to review the outstanding treatment report. Imagine his surprise when he discovers there isn’t just one “Mr. White” - there are dozens. $3,000 diagnosed, $1,500 diagnosed, $800 diagnosed and on and on and on. Surprise turns to shock, which turns to dismay when he adds it all up and discovers nearly $70,000 in unscheduled treatment in his patient records that has accumulated over the last several months.
I’d like to tell you these cases are rare. They’re not. We see it repeatedly, treatment plan after treatment plan recommended to patients but never pursued. The patient is told once that they need a specific procedure. The issue may come up again when the patient returns for the six-month dental hygiene appointment or it may not.
When it comes to clearly communicating a sense of urgency and the true consequences of routinely delaying necessary dental procedures, many practices fall recklessly short, and it goes well beyond revenues lost. It’s about being an advocate for good oral health.
Naturally, clinical staff believe they are advocates for oral health. After all, they are talking to patients about treatment and delivering care daily. But this type of advocacy goes beyond providing a service. This advocate is a champion for patient care. They are regularly monitoring the records for patients who have diagnosed yet unscheduled treatment. They are communicating to patients both the need for treatment as well as the long-term value of pursuing care. Moreover, they are financial advocates. They listen to the patients’ concerns regarding costs and can expertly recommend realistic options.
Who makes an ideal advocate? Your treatment coordinator. A treatment coordinator is a liaison with the patient who is both a “treatment advocate” and a “patient advocate.” This person speaks privately with the patient and presents the doctor’s recommendations in lay terms. S/he helps the patient feel at ease and comfortable asking questions. The treatment coordinator can help the patient understand the advantages of the practice’s various treatment financing models, including CareCredit. But perhaps most importantly, this person is professionally trained and prepared to help patients fully understand why treatment is important to their oral health and overall health. As a result of their efforts, patient oral health needs are not left to languish in the records.Next week, get treatment recommendations off the patient’s “maybe someday” list and onto the schedule.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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