Does Your Recall System Scream "Unprofessional"?
APOLOGY – My sincere apologies for the link in my article last week not working to my new designed recall cards. Try this: http://www.mckenziemgmt.com/recall.htm.
Hygiene profitability is a multi-step process, but you can make significant inroads if you focus on one critical point: Recall. It is number one on the list of patient retention and revenue boosting strategies, and most importantly, it automatically improves service to patients. Yet, after 30-plus years, I continue to be astounded by the number of practices whose recall “systems” are not systems at all.
In fact, some practices do nothing more than send the ultra-cheap and unprofessional little 3x5 postcards. These are adorned with pictures of cartoon characters or puppy dogs and are printed with inane comments like, “It’s time for your routine cleaning. Call us today at 555-1212.” If ever there were a method to totally minimize the importance of this essential patient service, the cheesy postcards are it! I just shake my head when I see these and think to myself how in the world does any self-respecting doctor allow this stuff to represent his/her practice? These scream cheap. You want the patient to invest in a $5,000 treatment plan, but you won’t spring for more than 32 cents in postage and a one-line message? Think about it.
Recall is your reputation. The tools you use to promote it either convey the image of a health care provider that is offering a valuable and necessary service…or they don't. Moreover, recall is your primary practice feeder. A successful recall program is indicative of a thriving and healthy practice. This isn't news. For years I've been saying that you have to manage recall - or practice profitability gets hammered. In 95% of the practices we work with, hygiene alone is losing $35,000-$150,000 annually. This says nothing of the thousands of dollars in additional dentistry that also disappears. A successful recall system helps patients to secure the dental care they need in a timely fashion, which would be one of the primary responsibilities of your practice. But it doesn't take care of itself.
Take these steps and shore up recall today. First, communicate with patients using professionally developed materials. Next, assign the job of patient coordinator to one person - NOT the hygienist. The patient coordinator is professionally trained to communicate effectively with patients. They are given uninterrupted time to carry out their responsibilities and this is their mission:
A good patient coordinator should be able to manage a patient base of 500-1000 on an average of 15 hours per week at an hourly rate of about $15-$18. Obviously, reactivating a few inactive patients pays for the position quickly. Monitor patient retention. Each month, divide the number of patients due to be recalled for prophies that month by the number of prophies performed. Your goal is 95% or higher.
While you are at it, take a close look at the effectiveness of your six-month scheduling efforts. Typically, this creates merely an illusion that the schedule is full. Because patients' lives are as busy and unpredictable as our own, oftentimes practices that rely exclusively on booking patients six months out average only about 76% patient retention and have a nearly 50% higher loss of patients than similar-sized practices that do not pre-appoint. I know that this is a practice that many offices are wedded to - my only suggestion is that you track the number of pre-scheduled patient cancellations, and consider offering patients, particularly those that have a higher no-show or last minute cancellation history, the option of being contacted 2-3 weeks prior to when they are due to schedule. You just might find that these patients join the ranks of your most loyal and reliable.
Finally, offer reasonable financing options for patients. Establishing a relationship with a patient financing company like Care Credit makes treatment more affordable, and more patients will proceed with both necessary and elective dental treatment. Send a professionally printed announcement to your inactive patients informing them that patient financing is now available.
For more information on this topic and for additional Dental Practice Management info, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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Put Your Wallet Away: Give Your Team What They Really Need
Numerous studies have shown that the most successful employees are the people who manage their own emotions - and more importantly - the emotions of others they work with. To get people to do their best work you don't need to pay them. You need to help them develop socially through activities such as team retreats. Unfortunately many dental leaders undermine the success of socially intelligent employees by unconsciously promoting selfish behavior. How? Bonuses and financial incentives.
There is very solid research on this. Princeton professor Sam Glucksberg looked at how motivation works in complex tasks that involve incentives. He used the famous “Candle Problem” to see how fast people could solve the problem. The goal of the task is to attach a candle to the wall so that the candle does not drip on the table. To solve the candle problem you need to see the box not only as a receptacle for the tacks but as something that can hold the candle. It requires creativity.
Glucksberg had two groups of people try to solve the candle problem. The group that was promised rewards took an average of three and half minutes longer than the unpaid “norm” group. How can this happen - it goes against popular beliefs! After all, if you want your employees to be more productive you incentivize them, right? Think again.
Today’s business tasks are far from clear cut and well defined. We work in the information age, an age of business that requires employees to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. Long ago we left the industrial revolution behind, yet for some reason we’re still using outdated motivators in an attempt to get the most out of employees. In the past you could motivate by saying “If you do this, then you get that.” That just won’t do any longer.
Contingency motivators - if you do this, you will get that - may work in some situations, but not all. This is one of the most robust findings in social science. Extrinsic rewards tend to narrow attention. This may be effective in jobs that have a clear outcome and a simple path to get the work done. But that is not what's required in today's 21st century business environments.
The challenges your employees face most often do not have a single set of rules. Think about the accounting functions in your office. I doubt that one of your employees is manually calculating debits and credits using a ledger sheet, a pencil and an adding machine. More likely, invoices and payments are entered into a software program that consolidates all the data into a P&L report. It's faster and far more accurate. Routine, rule-based, left-brain work can be automated and/or outsourced.
What really matters in today’s workforce is right-brain, innovative and conceptual kind of abilities. Whether it’s tracking patient referrals, maximizing treatment acceptance, providing outstanding customer service, handling Mrs. Jones who is a very “tricky” patient…your success depends on how well your employees navigate complex situations. When you offer your employees financial incentives you actually reduce their awareness of others and increase their focus on self. They can only see right in front of their face. Therein lies the problem. Rewards and incentives distract us from creative solutions to problems, narrow our focus and restrict our possibility. By its very nature, money makes us more selfish.
If you really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to entice employees with a sweeter carrot or threaten them with a sharper stick. Incentivize them by focusing more on intrinsic motivators.
By intrinsic motivation I mean the process in which the rewards come from carrying out an activity, rather from the end result of the activity. People are most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the satisfaction and challenge of the work itself, not by external pressures or incentives. When we do things because we enjoy them, they matter, because they bring value to our lives and to the lives of those we serve…that is when we are truly motivated.
To get your employees to live up to their full potential, take the focus off of extrinsic rewards and help them find enjoyment in their work. Leadership coaching can help you accomplish this. When members of your team have feelings of satisfaction about working in your office, that sense of meaning is what will take them to the next level.
Furthermore, assure that your employees do their best to understand the motivations of others. Happy teams are productive teams. And remember, the true motivational “magic” comes when your employees know you care about them and that you are committed to their success, professionally and personally. Making a person feel valued is worthy of a leader's conscious intention and can take many forms, most of which cost nothing but are perceived to be invaluable.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.orgInterested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
New Patients In Hygiene?
I have been in many offices where new patients are scheduled with the hygienist. This is neither right nor wrong - unless it is against the state law to have a new patient in the hygiene schedule before the doctor has done a comprehensive exam. However, I am always educating offices on the importance of the patient's perception. With that in mind, I am going to give you some things to think about when it comes to scheduling new patients. The question is: where should new patients be scheduled?
The new patient's perception starts with the initial phone call into your office. Does an answering machine pick up and have a lovely message about how you may be working with another patient and to please leave a message so that the office will get back to you as soon as possible? Does the front office put the person on hold immediately, and then when they do get back to the new patient on the phone, they sound rushed, or do not provide the answers the patient is looking for?
If you are having an answering machine pick up, the patient may perceive that your office is too busy to take the time to work with them - and the same may be true if the new patient interview is rushed. This is one time the front office may need to stop multi-tasking, and really focus on the new patient on the phone. Go through the new patient call slip with them. Answer the questions they have about their insurance to the best of your knowledge, and if you don't have the knowledge, offer to call the insurance company and see what benefit limitations they may have. This will take quite a bit of time, but it can be priceless when it comes to patient retention.
Next the patient will be showing up in the office, and the dental team does not want to undo all of the hard work that has already been done by the front office person who took the initial phone call. Many times the new patient is scheduled with the hygienist, because the patient has conveyed that they insist on having a cleaning. When new patients come in for their cleaning, they want to “get what they came for” - otherwise, they may not return to your office because you told them one thing and did another. The trust that needs to be built with the new patient has not been established and has actually been broken down. Yes, you may tell them they have periodontal disease and they need four quadrants of root planing - but they were also told they were going to get a cleaning.
Hopefully this patient was also informed that they would be getting any necessary x-rays, probings, and a comprehensive exam with the doctor, and that all are an additional cost. If the hygienist is not given additional time to probe, chart existing conditions, get x-rays and do the cleaning - then this is going to be a very stressful appointment not only for the hygienist, but also for the patient. As a patient, it is very easy to feel the comfort level of the staff and doctor as they work. Please don't think you and your staff are fooling anybody.
When doing the comprehensive exam, did the doctor only spend five or ten minutes with the patient? If so, when is the doctor going to build any patient rapport? This is the time to continuously have the red carpet out, and give the patient “knock your socks off” service and care. Really give them more than what they expect, starting with the initial phone call.
Seeing how first impressions are so very important - what is the best way to schedule the new patient in your office? In my next article, we will look at some possibilities of how to schedule the new patient to make it a less hectic appointment, make the entire team happy, and more importantly, leave a positive impression with the patient.
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