The Dental Hygienist - a.k.a. VP of Production
Dr. Beverly Lane – Case Study #322
More inquiries are coming into McKenzie Management regarding the loss of existing patients, fewer new patients, and the significant increase in cancelled and broken appointments. What to do?
Dr. Lane was a client of McKenzie Management three years ago. During her relationship with us, she learned a very valuable tool: dentistry is about relationships, and is not about carving the most beautiful restoration or fabricating the perfect porcelain crown.
Dr. Lane has continued to increase the number of new patients by 15% a year, even during these times. 73% of her new patients come referred by her existing patients, and the remainder come from insurance participation or a weekly ad that she runs in the local paper.
Practice production and collections has also continued to increase by over 25% each year. This year she has elected not to increase her fees. Her appointment acceptance is over 80% (not including hygiene appointments).
The Hygiene Department continues to grow. The patient retention is 92% and additional days of hygiene have been added consistently over the past three years as the indicators warrant.
Why Is She Successful?
There are only two answers to this question: She has excellent practice systems in place AND she understands the importance of having a professional relationship with her patients.
I have written many articles about the necessity of systems, so this article will not address this. Creating and sustaining relationships is equally as important in a dental practice. One requires the other.
How Did She Create Relationships?
Give yourself this test: Think of a restaurant where you enjoy dining. Now think about why you enjoy dining there. The food is good – prices are reasonable for the quality you receive – you don’t have to wait – it is well-appointed – the wait staff are personable and remember your name – they call you the next day to confirm that your meal was exceptional and to find what could have been done to make your experience even better. Do you see where I am going with this? All these considerations can be applied to your dental practice.
This is what Dr. Lane did:
The list goes on. What I hope you see is that Dr. Lane actually likes her patients and she has team members that understand what customer service is all about.
How Is She Maintaining These Relationships?
Dr. Lane is sensitive to the financial needs of her patients. During these more difficult times, not only has she not increased her fees, she is offering incentives to her patients to help them to accept the needed treatment.
Currently, she is providing her hygiene exams free of charge to her patients. Do you think that this sales tool helps the Hygiene Coordinator to encourage a past due hygiene patient to come in? She has also offered complimentary radiographs in order to provide a complete diagnosis for a patient without insurance that indicated that she couldn’t afford them.
In order to maintain her daily production goal, the Schedule Coordinator has implemented an “On Call Program” for patients that are geographically close to the office. These patients are called on short notice and if they are able to come in, they are given a 10% adjustment to their fee.
Dr. Lane has also been known to play “Let’s Make a Deal” with her patients. For example, Mrs. Jones needs two crowns in the same quadrant. The investment was not manageable by the patient at full fee for two crowns. Dr. Lane offered the second crown for half the fee as a courtesy to the patient.
Outside Relationships that Benefit Her Practice
Not only are dental offices struggling, but the labs that service these practices are struggling as well. Dr. Lane contacted her lab and expressed her interest in offering special fees for some of her patients in order to help them financially as well as dentally. She asked if the lab would consider passing on a savings to her as well so she could pass on the savings to the patient. They said “yes!”
The Hygiene Coordinator needed a creative way to thank patients that referred new patients. She contacted several of the local restaurants and invited them to offer buy one get one free coupons that she could give to their patients. It is a “win-win-win” situation for all parties involved.
It is never too late to start creating and maintaining relationships with your patients. We don’t know how long the economy is going to suffer, but I do know this: the practices that are still growing have created a bond with their patients that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. When these practices do lose a patient to another dental office because of insurance participation, they often come back because of the relationship that was missing in the other office.
“I can sell ice to an Eskimo” Dr. Candidly* proudly stated as we discussed the results of his treatment presentations. Observing one presentation, I noted that as the patient asked several questions, Dr. Candidly nervously spun his pen and tapped his foot with each additional inquiry as to why the dentistry was necessary. “Let’s get you an appointment and I will show you some samples of the work that I have recommended for your situation.”
Appearing to want to “wrap things up” and get the patient out the door, Dr. Candidly assumed that he had sold the patient on the dental work and his questions could be answered at a later date. The patient did appoint for the treatment, but later cancelled and rescheduled the appointment for a future date. Dr. Candidly reported that patients usually accepted and scheduled appointments but he wanted them to want the high end dentistry and not just the basic services.
Demonstrating the need for dentistry with visuals such as radiographs, intra oral photos, models and educational videos are all important. What is said to the patient to communicate the need for treatment and the benefits is also critical. Often overlooked but equally important is the doctor’s body language when discussing treatment with the patient.
From the moment you walk into the treatment room, your body is busy telling people all about you. If you have not had the opportunity to meet the patient prior to entering the treatment room, the first minute the patient sees you is spent assessing your physical appearance and the patient often does not fully hear the words you are saying until after this assessment is complete. If you slouch or have poor posture you will be sending a message of insecurity or lack of confidence. A person that stands tall and moves in a purposeful way commands instant respect as he/she enters the room. Good posture includes the way you hold your head. Study the way people in your life carry their heads and see what you think about the differences. Keeping your head level indicates an assured and capable nature. It may also give your voice fuller tones as it opens the airway. With a level head you are able to look people straight in the eye. A bowed head with eyes toward the floor makes you look unsure and passive, or possibly not telling the truth. Tilting your head shows curiosity or that you are listening to the person with interest. A tilt of the head with a quizzical look can show bewilderment or helplessness to get a point across.
Dentists often turn their backs on patients during treatment presentations in the operatory because the design of the chair and the equipment makes it difficult to sit face to face. Because of this, it is recommended to move the patient to a consultation room or private office to sit with the presentation laid out at eye level between the doctor and the patient. Often doctors dismiss this idea as being time consuming and unnecessary, however recent feedback from dentists who have started presenting treatment plans in rooms or spaces other than the treatment room find patients more willing to ask questions and proceed with treatment.
Most people are unaware of their nervous habits because they are desensitized to the behaviors and are unaware of the affect they have on observers. If you are aware of any nervous fidgeting or annoying habit that you may have, now is the time to work on eliminating it if you want to communicate effectively. One of the worst nervous habits is looking at your watch as the patient tells you a story, as it sends the message that “I don’t have time for this.”
The result is a communication disconnect with the patient, and possibly a lost follow-up appointment for dental treatment. Constantly clearing your throat, adjusting your tie, pulling at your hair, ears or chin all send messages that can make the observer uncomfortable. A relative of mine pulls at her eye lashes when she is in a conversation that makes her feel vulnerable. Because I know her habit I am accustomed to it, but others who do not know her find it disturbing.
To improve your body language and polish your treatment presentation, the Treatment Acceptance Course through McKenzie Management provides the tools and the platform to explore ways to learn how you influence your patients to buy dental services not only with your voice but also with your body. Call today to find out more about the course and how it can help you.
*name has been changed
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