Follow-Up and Watch Patients Follow-Through
For the record, let me say that I too read and watch the news. Like you, I am well aware that the nation’s economy is recovering - albeit at a slow - okay, very slow - crawl. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the rest of you can run your small businesses at the same snail’s pace. Rather, it’s time to adapt and start running.
Certainly, it’s likely you’ve noticed a few changes in your practice in the last couple of years. For many, scheduling challenges are different today than they were, and keeping the schedule full is requiring persistence as well as a fair amount of creativity. You also may have noticed that patients want much more information about your recommendations today than a few years ago. Many more want to discuss your recommended treatment plan two or even three times before they proceed. More and more patients are conferring with their significant others before proceeding. While this has been a factor for many years, it’s much more prevalent today. And finally, they are pursuing recommended treatment, but they are doing so in phases.
Let’s consider one of the key changes that we’ve seen over the past few years: The patient’s need/desire for education has increased significantly. It can be the greatest obstacle to treatment acceptance. If you and your team are not regularly impressing upon your patients the importance of pursuing the care you’ve recommended and educating them about the procedure and why it is necessary, they will not see the value in receiving that care. Patients are looking for value. It’s as simple as that.
Use common sense, well-written practiced scripts, and make sure everyone is on the same page. For example, if a patient is told at his recall appointment that he has a cracked tooth and will need a crown, pay attention to how the patient reacts. Also pay attention to what specific information the patient is given. Is the diagnosis explained to the patient fully and completely, along with a full explanation as to why the patient needs the crown and the consequences of delaying treatment? Or is the patient told something a bit more vague, perhaps along these lines: “Bob, it looks like there’s a little problem with an upper right molar here. You probably want to get that taken care of before too long.”
There is no sense of urgency in the statement above. Therefore, if dutiful staff follow-up with this patient, Bob may be annoyed and feel that the staff are being pushy because the clear impression Bob got from the dentist was that this tooth presented a minor problem, not an urgent one. Bob wasn’t educated. On the other hand, if Bob was told specifically that he needed a crown and if the potential problems that are likely to arise if he delays care were explained, the next step is to evaluate his reaction to the recommendation. 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, but nodded his head in agreement? The specific information provided to Bob and his reactions are critical in gauging the best approach to follow-up with this patient.
If the exchange is fully documented, the business employee reads the notes and realizes that Bob is going through a difficult time, is not going to schedule an appointment, and therefore a phone call is probably not going to be the best approach. Instead she might opt 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, but when Bob is ready, the practice looks forward to scheduling the appointment.
Conversely, if the patient nodded in agreement but hasn’t scheduled the appointment, the practice has an obligation to follow-up with him. Convey compassion and concern as well as the significant importance of scheduling the treatment. Always emphasize the benefit to the patient as well as the value to the patient.
Regardless of the economy, doctors still have a professional obligation as health care providers to diagnose and recommend ideal treatment to patients. And staff shouldn’t be afraid to follow-up with patients using a well-prepared and systematic approach. It is in the patient’s best interest to receive care promptly.
Dr. Stephanie Edwards– Case Study #221
How many times have you heard your peers remark, “I just want to go to work, do dentistry and go home!” Many times, right? I would venture to say that even you have said, thought, or felt it - just as they have. Dr. Edwards was upset and disappointed. A key employee had stomped out of the office, exclaiming “I quit!” What should she do? Let’s go back down memory lane for a few moments before discussing what she should do. Remember these times:
Now let’s come back to today and Dr. Edwards’ call. What happened? She had the “perfect” team and now someone is quitting. What happened to her “perfect” practice?
The Practice Dynamics Change
As the practice grew, another assistant was employed, two hygienists and another business person. The practice was flourishing and the friendly relationship that Dr. Edwards and Suzie had is not being “nourished” since Dr. Edwards has no time for chit-chat now. She has started her own family and now shares her dreams and goals with her spouse instead of Suzie.
Suzie becomes a “drama queen” in an attempt to draw the doctor’s attention as she has become accustomed to in the past. Her performance is not getting the result that she is hoping for. Instead, her co-workers are disappointed in her behavior. She appears to be ungrateful for the niceties that the doctor does for the entire team because she is now “sharing” the attention with others in the office. Suzie is not a happy camper.
The Doctor Changes
Dr. Edwards wasn’t in need of a confidante anymore. She needed a skilled, friendly team player that was a good assistant as well. Suzie was not this person now. Did Suzie change or did the doctor’s needs change? Was she a different person now compared to the young and naïve dentist 10 years ago? Yes!
The Needs of a Relationship Change
Suzie didn’t change. She was always an assistant that enjoyed being the center of attention and her strengths were “running the back office” as though it was hers. As the practice grew and more team members were added, she suddenly realized one day that she was not “running the back” anymore, because she couldn’t control everyone. Each employee brought their own set of skills to the table, enabling the place settings to be complete. Suzie liked it better when she was the only place setting. She still had a need to “run the show.”
Dr. Edwards’s needs changed. She now needed employees who were team players. She was not happy with Suzie’s behavior and was concerned that it was effecting her professional relationship with her other employees.
Unfortunately, as Dr. Edwards grew as a professional in her field, Suzie did not grow with her. Suzie stayed back, fighting for her monogamous relationship and attention that no longer existed. There is no surprise here. Suzie did the right thing – maybe not in the most professional manner. Something upset her on this day that pushed her over the edge. Yes, she made the decision in haste, but it was eventually coming and maybe should have happened even sooner.
To assume that your employees are going to be with you forever and ever until you retire is unrealistic unless you both continue to grow professionally. Otherwise, when the relationship has served its purpose, it is time to move on. Feel fortunate that you both touched one another’s hearts in a special way.
Marketing is Everyday in the Dental Practice
Doctors often say that marketing is expensive and the return is marginal at best. Assuming they are speaking of random direct mail or yellow page advertising, this statement is often true. What is frequently overlooked is that every day you are in the practice, you are marketing yourself and your services to potential consumers. Your greatest opportunity to market your practice is to the patients who are there today for services and those that are calling in to schedule an appointment.
The educated dental business manager knows that getting the practice scheduled to goal is more than finding an open time slot in the appointment module. It involves planning the schedule to meet the needs of the patients and the team. When a new patient calls to make an appointment they are in a buying mode and even though they appoint, they won’t necessarily keep that appointment. How they are treated by the person who answered the phone, including how their questions were answered and if they got the appointment time that they wanted, are critical to insuring a valid appointment.
As the chief promoter of your practice, you have a lot of wonderful things to say to the patient about their decision to call your office. However, you are in a hurry to get off the phone to take another call or check out a patient at the desk. When you do have time to talk to the patient about the practice and what it offers, the rapport that is established ensures that the patient will keep their appointment.
There are many things that patients want to know about the doctor and the practice, and often they will do their research on your website before or after making the appointment. During the phone call to appoint the patient, it is critical that you refer them to your website for personal information about the doctor’s education, training and special areas of expertise, services you offer and something that sets you apart from other practices in the area. Just like you keep current on your computer software updates, it is most important that you keep your website current. If the patient does not have access to a computer then an office brochure, newsletter or welcome letter can be sent to the patient along with health history and privacy information.
The following are some questions that patients want answered before they keep the appointment in your practice:
When we are busy, we lose sight of how the practice is being viewed by the patient because we are caught up doing dentistry. When things start to slow down, we wonder what happened and we look to marketing to solve the problem. On-going marketing, both internal and external, is necessary to keep the practice thriving and growing. At your busiest time you should be saying: “What can we do as a team to market our practice to our community?” The simplest thing is to ask for referrals when completing a patient’s care. A sincere “Thank you for being a wonderful patient and we welcome your referrals of friends and family to our office” should be said on a regular basis. Decide at the morning huddle who will be asked and who will do the asking that day, and make notes in the patient charts.
Make marketing a daily priority in your practice and see the results. Want more training in this area? Sign up today for McKenzie Management’s Front Office Training Course and get the tools for your practice success.
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