Build Long Term Valuable Relationships with Patients
While many dentists tend to be overly concerned about the number of new patients coming into the practice each month, patient retention is where practice profitability is best achieved. The ability to retain patients makes a big difference in the patient’s average value. It’s been shown that if patient retention is at 50% the average value is $1,200 per patient. If you retain 75% of patients, the average value jumps to $2,500. In other words, patient value more than doubles.
Chatting with the patient for five minutes or less every six months is not building a relationship. It requires a bit more consideration and effort than that, but will pay huge dividends in the long run. Two things in particular are essential to retaining long-term loyal patients:
Start with your new patients; establish a system in your office in which every new patient is sent a handwritten personal thank you note from the doctor, no exceptions. Keep it simple and straightforward, but also personal, for example:
It was a pleasure meeting you at your new patient appointment on Wednesday. Thank you for choosing our practice. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at any time. And best of luck to your daughter in her upcoming soccer season!
Sincerely, Dr. GoodDoc.
The key is personalization. A handwritten, personalized note carries far more weight and value to the recipient than generic pre-printed cards. Making it personal merely requires that, with the help of your assistant, you gather a few nuggets of personal information during your conversations with the patient.
While I’m on the topic of thanking patients, don’t overlook your referring patients. They have paid you and your team the highest compliment. Sending flowers or other “showy” gifts to the workplace is one of the best ways to generate a “buzz” about your practice. The fact is that anytime someone receives flowers, everyone wants to know what the occasion is and who they are from. And if everyone is talking about your practice, it’s likely to generate even more referrals.
Next, address those aspects of the dental visit that patients dislike the most, starting with injections. There are products on the market today that enable you to give injections that are truly painless. This is particularly important when giving a shot in highly sensitive areas, such as the palate or upper incisors. These are experiences that patients remember for better or worse. And don’t overlook topical anesthetics for dental hygiene visits to minimize discomfort as much as possible.
Watch your timing. Neither the patient nor the dental team appreciates it when staff run behind. It’s essential that the Scheduling Coordinator fully understand how much time is required for procedures. Additionally, consider checking hygiene patients when it is convenient for you, the doctor, rather than at the end of the hygiene appointment. This requires a little adjustment at first, but can significantly improve efficiency.
In addition, pay attention to the subtle messages that the employees send to patients, specifically, their smiles. If Sarah, your assistant, can smile with confidence and tell the patient that Dr. GoodDoc is her dentist and he is absolutely the best, this has a huge positive impact chairside in selling treatment. Moreover, it will make the team member feel good about working for your practice.
Most importantly, make it easy for your patients to pursue treatment. They like you. They like your team. They trust your recommendations. But they are afraid of the price tag. Provide financial options. Offer 10% off if they pay with cash or check. Consider 5% off if they use a credit card and pay at the time of service. Provide outside financing options as well. The 12-months interest free financing from CareCredit is my personal favorite. Yes, the practice has to pay a fee, but the patient gets treatment and the doctor gets paid. All you have to say to the patient is: “How does 12 months interest free financing sound to you?” and they are usually thrilled to pursue your recommended care.
Finally, don’t disappear for six months. Keep your name in front of your patients. Send birthday cards, articles, magnets, electronic newsletters, recipes, etc. Companies such as 1-800-Dentist have products that make ongoing communication with patients easy, convenient, and effective in helping you to build long term positive relationships with all your patients.
How Many Patients Should The Hygienist See?
Cultivating a productive hygiene department is a priority for most dental practices. But the best way to accomplish this can be elusive. Let’s look at some of the strategies employed by many offices and how they might impact the practice’s financial health.
Should a productive hygiene department see more than the “average” number of patients? How many patients is average? For many practices this is at least 9 patients per day. (8 hours = 480 minutes divided by 50-minute appointments = 9.6 patients.) But are 50-minute appointments enough time? For many hygienists, trying to effectively take care of that many adult patients every day can make them feel they are truly on a treadmill. If these hygienists are also trying to provide perio charting plus schedule the patient’s next appointment, time actually spent on patient care can dwindle to 40 minutes or less. If the patient needs x-rays, patient care time can further dwindle to 35 minutes, and if possible perio or restorative treatment is identified and explained, it can go down even further. What about cleaning up after the last patient and setting up for the next patient. Can that be accomplished at the speed of light?
What actually happens in many practices is the hygienist always runs late; irritating patients waiting in the reception room, and causing stress and unhappiness to the hygienist, doctor, and the rest of the staff. Another possibility is patients receiving “just the basics” without a chance for possible appropriate perio or restorative treatment identification and recommendation. Neither is good for patients or the practice’s financial health.
Can a hygienist effectively treat up to 12 patients per day? If 9 standard adult prophys can be stressful, 12 can only be worse. At 12 patients per day, a hygienist has only 40 minutes to accomplish all related tasks plus provide the actual prophy. The addition of a hygiene assistant might make this schedule feasible, but one person working alone faces burn-out, exhaustion, and a feeling of futility. Plus, without adequate time to identify possible patient perio or restorative needs, the practice’s financial health will likely suffer.
Is moving patients through the hygiene department quickly the only way to justify the cost of the hygienist’s wages? Hygienists are typically the highest paid practice employee. Dentists often worry that without short appointments and high patient volume, they may not be getting their “money’s worth.” A dental office is an expensive business to run. Unlike a physician’s office, a dental practice is a “mini-hospital.” Rent or mortgage, utilities, supplies, equipment, disposables, computers, and staffing make the overhead of a practice a constant concern. Looking at a packed hygiene schedule can provide a feeling of security. The patients are coming in and the expensive hygienist is busy. But there is another way to look at it. What if a hygienist has more time, say, at least an hour for a standard adult prophy?
Hygienists who identify possible perio and restorative treatment, and who have the luxury of time to explain to the patient and discuss findings with the dentist when s/he comes in for the recall exam, affect appropriate patient care and the financial health of the practice in a very positive manner. Scaling and root planing needs can be identified and scheduled, providing necessary treatment for patients and increased income for the practice. Subsequent periodontal maintenance ensures lasting patient health for those who need it at double the fee of a standard prophy. When added to the fact that perio maintenance is often required four times a year, the financial impact is significant. Non-perio patients who are identified as needing more frequent prophys can also be important. Although most insurance plans only cover two prophys annually, patients who need to come in more often can be counseled and encouraged to accept a more frequent schedule. Just 50 patients who go from twice a year (at $80) to three times a year can add $4000 to the practice’s bottom line!
When a hygienist identifies necessary restorative treatment, it is important to have time to go over what has been found with the patient before the dentist comes in. When the dentist arrives, s/he can confirm the findings. From the patient’s point of view, two pairs of eyes have seen the problem, lending credibility to the need for treatment. If the hygienist has also had time to take a photo as illustration, patient acceptance is further enhanced. If only 50 patients a year accept necessary crown restorations (at $1,100 each) $55,000 can be added to the practice’s bottom line.
Given adequate time, there are many other ways a hygienist can bolster positive patient care and practice finances:
While each dentist must decide how many patients their hygienists should see each day, there is a great potential for increased office revenue when adequate appointment times are employed. The financial impact of the hygiene department can extend far beyond what they produce directly at the chair.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office”. Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol is also a speaker on hygiene efficiency and profitability for McKenzie Management. Interested in having Carol speak to your dental society or study club? Click here
10 Steps to Giving Feedback
Imagine the following scenario: You implemented a new recall system six months ago. You believe you were clear in telling your Front Office employee that you did not want to schedule patients six months in advance any more. Today you learned that Mary never followed your instructions. You feel frustrated and angry.
This exact circumstance may not be realistic for you, but I am certain that at some time in your dental career you’ve been disappointed or angered by an employee’s action, or inaction. How did you handle it? How should you have handled it? Let’s use Mary as the example.
Clearly you and Mary need to talk. However, the biggest challenge in communication comes when we are under stress. We have a sense of loss that we convert to hurt and often anger. If we try to talk in the heat of the moment, we tend to say things we later regret. Therefore, it’s always a wise decision to wait and think things through.
Studies also have shown that the number one factor affecting an employee’s performance (and minimizing turnover) is his/her relationship with their supervisor or boss. Before you do or say anything to Mary, be careful that you are not misjudging her actions. Remember that she may be operating from a positive intention despite falling short of meeting your expectations. She needs feedback.
Feedback is communication regarding a person’s behavioral impact. The term “feedback” was originally borrowed from electrical engineering. In the field of rocket science, for example, each rocket has a built-in apparatus that sends messages to a steering mechanism on the ground. When the rocket is off target, these messages come back to the steering mechanism that in turn makes adjustments and puts the rocket back on target again.
Feedback then tells us whether we are “on course” - keep doing what you’re doing, it’s working - or provides us with information to put us back “on course.” The problem is, most people associate the term “feedback” to mean criticism rather than information. As such, it is met with reluctance or anxiety, or simply avoided. Yet, the process of giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important communication tools you have to keep your office efficient and profitable. It requires some planning to be effective.
THINK through the main idea you want to express. Organize supporting thoughts or facts so that they lead to your main point. By being concise and clear, you increase the likelihood that you have a positive impact and your message will be heard.
BE POSITIVE AND CALM. Make good eye contact. Start the conversation by identifying something that you sincerely appreciate about the person. Then define the current issue in concrete terms. Address behaviors, not personalities. Be direct in a non-aggressive manner. Stick to the issue at hand. Avoid bringing in other business or old problems.
NEGOTIATE. Ask the person for their feedback. By requesting their input, you build a “win-win” atmosphere. Remain non-judgmental. Show concern and avoid interrupting. Listen for main thoughts or ideas, particularly with people who include a lot of detail or tend to ramble. Paraphrase what they have said if you need clarification, or simply to confirm understanding.
Here’s a dialogue script for talking with Mary.
By communicating this way with employees, you are on the road to increasing quality results and maximizing staff retention.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
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