Turn Today's Practice Shopper into Tomorrow's Loyal Patient
Before the person walking into your practice ever becomes a patient, they are a “shopper” of sorts. And when they’re shopping around and evaluating your practice against the others, they are looking at it with the critical eye of a consumer who is about to make a large investment of both time and money in what they hope will be a long-term relationship. When they make the decision that your practice is the right one for them and their family, make sure they know that they made the best decision.
Touch base periodically. Send a brief survey and ask your patients, especially new patients, for feedback. Showing them that you care about their satisfaction speaks volumes about your commitment to excellent care. It can also provide you with an opportunity to gain insights about other aspects of your practice that could be improved or expanded to further enhance the patient experience. Send birthday greetings, Thanksgiving cards or periodic email newsletters. No matter how you choose to do so, find a way to stay connected to your patients.
If they have missed an appointment or not scheduled a recommended visit, drop a letter in the mail and let them know that you are concerned about them, their oral health, and their overall health. It may also serve as the reminder they needed to get back into your office. Pick up the phone. A real human being should answer the office phone during regular business hours. Stagger lunch breaks to ensure that the phone is staffed with a human being - not voicemail - at all times.
Be prompt with inquiries. If a current or prospective patient calls and requests information or has a question, respond promptly or within a specific and reasonable timeframe that is expressed clearly to the patient. This shows your commitment to a high level of service and reinforces the patient’s confidence in you and your practice. Know the answers to common questions, and provide thorough and complete information. This tells them you have a team that is well trained and prepared. That alone speaks volumes about the quality of your practice.
If an issue arises, take action and make it your priority to resolve it immediately. Remember, mistakes and how they are resolved provide an exceptional opportunity to show your commitment to the patient. If you have an upset or disgruntled patient, take the negative situation and make it a positive opportunity for both of you.
Listen, listen, listen. Dentists are very good at talking to patients and telling them what they need, what they should do, what’s wrong, and what the best course of treatment is. While that’s an important aspect of patient education and providing proper care, listening is essential to building positive relationships with the person beyond the patient. Your patients provide cues that are windows into their interests and priorities. Ask questions, take notice, pay attention. Keep notes in the patient’s records and acknowledge milestones in the patient’s life, such as a child going off to college or the patient achieving a personal goal, taking a dream vacation, etc. It’s all part of building the personal side of your professional relationship with this person.
Be reliable. Patients expect the office to run reasonably on time. If the doctor or hygienist is behind schedule, telephone patients so they can make changes in their plans or reschedule if necessary. If you can’t reach the patient and they have to wait for more than 20 minutes, give them a letter signed by the doctor that apologizes for the inconvenience, thanks them for their understanding, emphasizes that the practice makes every effort to remain on schedule; however, occasionally special circumstances arise that affect the schedule, and include a $5 gift card to the local coffee shop or a similar gift in the envelope. The patient may still be frustrated about the delay, but they will appreciate that the practice acknowledged the inconvenience.
Maintain stability. A solid team is the mark of a strong practice. If the make-up of your team seemingly changes as often as the seasons, patients begin to wonder about the quality of your care and the competency of your staff, and often those concerns are for good reason. If yours is a revolving door practice, it’s a strong indicator of some serious shortfalls in your personnel systems, including hiring, training and employee evaluations just to name a few.
Next week, how would your practice rate in a “Consumer Analysis?”
A Case for Accountability
When an employee is hired without a written job description, there is an implied job description that may or may not be what the doctor had in mind as the “perfect employee.” When interviewing, Doctors and the management team look at resumes and applications. The applicant says they have experience, but that experience may not be what you need in this particular job position. “Dr. Shouldhave” told a story about an employee in his office that was there six months before he found out that she didn’t keyboard (type).
Even though she said she had computer experience, she was never tested. She used her index fingers and had to look at the keys. His office sees well over a hundred new patients a month and her job was data input to computer charts. The office manager who hired her ended up taking over just to keep up with the work load. His manager also hired a nice lady because she spoke Spanish, only to find out that her English was poor and miscommunications happened daily.
It didn’t end there for Dr. Shouldhave. After purchasing another practice and adding on more staff, the problems continued to stack up and ended up on his desk to the point that he had to stop doing dentistry just to take care of administrative and human resource issues. With over twenty employees, two offices and several associate dentists, he was at his wits end.
Going back to the basics and creating written job descriptions with detailed areas of accountability for everyone was the first step. Personality temperament testing to assure that the management team had the right traits to manage their subordinates showed that the ability and desire was there, but the knowledge and training of how to carry out their positions was missing.
Dr. Shouldhave explained that if he asked one of the team what happened when something went wrong, he was told that “one of the girls did it but I am not sure which one.” Department managers were trained to be accountable for the success of the people in their area of responsibility, and if they failed so did the manager. Consequences for failure to complete tasks, attendance, promptness and neatness of work area were defined.
Another area of concern for the practices of Dr. Shouldhave was customer service. Dr. Shouldhave asked the front desk team to please use written scripts when answering calls and gathering information from new patients. Unfortunately, he was not at the desk a lot to hear what was being said, until the day that he called his office and heard the tone of voice of the person that answered and also heard that she was not using the assigned scripts. Upon asking the manager, she explained that she was aware and had told the staff member a few times to please use the scripts, but nothing changed because there was no consequence for this action.
A system was developed to prevent poor hiring and training practices. The Dr. began testing potential employees to ensure skill levels are better than satisfactory. Having the applicant read the job description and sign it ensured that the applicant knew exactly what the job was and could not say later that she/he didn’t know what was expected of them.
Defining any area where the employee will benefit from further training is now addressed, and team members are monitored by the manager until no errors are made. Accountability for tasks and participating in morning huddles and business meetings has been defined. Tardiness, sloppiness, and failure to complete work to the satisfaction of the management team means that the team member will be terminated for failure to perform.
Creating order will eliminate chaos. There will still be days that will challenge the team, but with proper systems in place it will be far easier to correct these problems. Want help establishing order in your chaos? Call McKenzie Management today for Consulting/Coaching and Training information.
Treatment Planning in the Computer is a MUST
“What happens to all those patients that I recommend treatment to?” Have you ever wondered about that? Here is the dialogue that you have with your patient:
“Jane, it looks like you are going to need a crown on that tooth. The margins are leaking and there appears to be a cavity under that old silver filling when I look at your x-ray. I need to take out that old filling and remove the cavity. As a result, the remaining tooth structure will be weak. To save the tooth, we need to put a nice porcelain crown on the remaining tooth. Do you have any questions?”
“Great! Susie will walk with you to the front desk and they will schedule this for you,” you state, and say good-bye. You don’t see her again until her next 6-month recall appointment… without a crown. What happened to her? She said she didn’t have any questions.
Here is what happened at the front desk. Carol, your Schedule Coordinator has this conversation with Jane: “Jane, would you like to schedule for your crown?”
“No”, Jane says. “I will call you when I check my schedule.” Carol says okay and tells her good-bye.
First Mistake - No Follow Up
It is imperative to establish a time to follow up. When Carol places the call, her call would sound like the following: “Hello Jane. This is Carol from Dr. Brown’s office. I promised to call you today if I hadn’t heard from you so we can make your appointment to take care of the cavity and prepare the tooth for the crown. Are mornings or afternoons better for you?”
Many Schedule Coordinators are not comfortable “soliciting” patients for appointments (this is their perception, anyway). They may feel like they are bothering the patient or maybe feel like the patient would schedule if they wanted the crown. Not always true. We must recognize that our patients do not walk around all day thinking about their teeth! Unfortunately, we are not always high on their priority list.
To help Carol make this call, she would look at it from the standpoint that she is only following up on a promise that she made with Jane to call her, and Jane told her that it would be fine. Carol is NOT bothering Jane, but simply following up on her promise to call her. Also note that Carol did not ask Jane “Do you want to schedule?” This is a “yes or no” question. Instead, she asked her if she preferred a morning or afternoon and then waited for the patient’s response.
Second Mistake - Not Treatment Planned in the Computer
The last reason does not always happen in many offices, such as this one. All the new patients have a complete treatment plan entered into the computer. But what about those procedures that are recommended when the doctor sees the patient in the Hygiene Department? Or what about an existing patient that is seen with a toothache? If the patient does not schedule, is the procedure “treatment planned” in the computer for follow-up? Not in many cases.
ALL recommended treatment, whether it is scheduled or not, should be entered into the computer as a treatment planned item. It can be entered by the clinical team if there are computers in the treatment rooms, or by the Schedule Coordinator at the front desk.
Generating the Unscheduled Treatment Plans Report
It is also important to understand that should the treatment be altered in any way, the treatment planned item must also be altered before it is posted. If not, the initial treatment will remain on the Unscheduled Treatment Plan Report. In other words, if 3-MO becomes a 3-MOD, the original entry must be corrected. The other option is to delete the entry after the 3-MOD is posted. This will keep the report current.
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