Killing Time, Clobbering Profits
The clock on the wall says 2:10. The patient was scheduled for a 2 p.m. appointment. It’s “dead time” in the dental office. Mid-afternoon for many practices sees production slow to a trickle. These tend to be some of the most difficult times to fill and the most likely to generate no-shows and cancellations. The hygienist and the scheduling coordinator commiserate over the likelihood that “Mr. Frank” isn’t coming in.
The hygienist decides to grab a magazine and relax in the break room for a bit, thereby making zero contribution to the 33% of practice production that he is responsible for achieving. The scheduling coordinator, whose job description should include ensuring that the hygienist is scheduled to meet specific production goals, doesn't give the no-show a second thought. Instead, the afternoon lull offers her the opportunity to do a quick-scan on her Facebook page. While these two are killing time until the next patient walks in, practice profits and production goals are getting pounded.
Take steps to keep the schedule full and patients in the chair. Educate patients about the impact on the practice of last minute cancellations and no-shows. Many are completely oblivious to the fact that the appointment has been set aside specifically for them, that the doctor and/or the hygienist have prepared specifically for this patient's procedure, and that someone else also in need of dental care could have taken advantage of that appointment if they had been given the opportunity.
Additionally, it is essential that patients are politely reminded of the practice’s cancellation policy on a regular basis. It should be printed on appointment cards, mentioned in conversations, as well as included in text messages and emails. And patients who are 10 minutes late for their scheduled appointment should be called promptly to confirm that they are on their way. For example: “Hello Mr. Frank. This is Abigail from Dr. Adams’ office. We were expecting you for your appointment at 2:00, and I was concerned because you had not arrived yet.”
Listen carefully to the patient’s response. He may be on the way and stuck in traffic. He might have had a legitimate emergency. Life does happen, and it’s important for staff to be sensitive to that when contacting patients. However, it’s also critical to document all no-shows and last minute cancellations into the patient’s record to track if situations such as this are occasional or common. If the patient tends to have a history of missed appointments, suggest that the practice will contact him when an opening is available. “Mr. Frank, we seem to be having difficulty coordinating a time that is convenient for you. I don’t have any available appointments currently; however, I have your appointment information, and I will contact you when an opening becomes available.”
When it comes to ensuring the schedule is full and production goals are met, filling open appointment times in the hygiene schedule must be a priority for the business staff. If there is less than ½ day notice of a cancellation, move an existing, scheduled patient from another day into that time. If a patient gives more than ½ day notice, contact patients listed on the recall report that need appointments. Those patients who are overdue for recall should be given priority because they are the most likely not to return unless the practice is diligent in contacting them and makes an ongoing effort to emphasize the importance of regularly scheduled oral health care appointments.
Retaining existing patients is as important to the continued growth of the practice as is recruiting new patients. And keeping the hygiene schedule full is a key element in maintaining a solid patient base. It is essential to establish patient retention goals as well as new patient goals based on the office's past performance. For example, let's say your practice goal is to increase patient numbers by 50% annually. The practice averages 200 recall patients per month and retains 90%, 180 patients are retained and 20 are not. Therefore, the practice needs to see 40 new patients each month to reach the goal.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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Are You Aware Of How Dentally Educated Your Patients Are?
Do you want that new patient, or the patient returning for their first recall, to be a lifetime patient and refer many other patients? Or do you want to see them one or two times and not receive any referrals. Today’s consumer is much more educated than ever before. With all of the social media, reviews and the Internet, the average consumer can look up and learn quickly about any business or dental office. In addition to all of the electronic access to knowledge, they also still have the traditional ways of educating themselves with books, pamphlets, and other professionals, as well as their own perception of what they think is right and wrong. With all of this knowledge at our patient’s fingertips, we must always be on our “A Game.” One bad review on the Internet could be what keeps a patient from coming to your practice.
When a patient is diagnosed with periodontal disease and is treatment planned for 4 quadrants of root planing, they can go home and Google gum disease, treatment for gum disease, root planing, and how much time is required for root planing - and they will be aware of everything to expect. Not only that, they will have access to chat rooms that will discuss fees, alternative treatments, and how others perceive root planing, all within ten minutes.
Customer service is something to be constantly aware of. When one of my patients informs me they are moving and will be leaving the practice, I write down on the back of my business card exactly what they should ask any new office they are considering. I also recommend that my periodontal maintenance patients go to a periodontist and ask them for a referral to a general dentist in the area they are moving to. When it comes to patients that leave our office because they had to change their insurance to a provider that we do not accept, most of them return even if they have to pay cash, because: “I did not feel like my teeth were cleaned as well as they are here, I would much rather pay cash than have poor quality of care.”
One of the best practice builders for your office may be simply spending a few extra minutes on a professional cleaning. There is nothing that makes me happier than to have a new patient in my chair say: “That is the best cleaning I have ever had.” I immediately say thank you and ask them to please share that with their friends and give them my business cards while asking them for a referral. This is all based on the patient’s perceptions. So, when you are looking at what will be done in a dental hygiene appointment and how much time the hygienist is taking to do all of the procedures, it is recommended that no matter what additional treatment is done, make sure to include enough time for the actual cleaning.
Many times it is the time spent with the patient performing the procedures, the non-verbal actions of the staff, and how rushed the patient perceives them to be that may be the deciding factor. If a patient leaves your office and writes a review stating that the cleaning was average or below average and the hygienist seemed rushed, this may prevent many new patients from even entering your front door - even if they have insurance that only you except.
We all know how important word of mouth is, and in today's society, word of mouth is easily provided not only nationwide but worldwide with the click of a mouse and use of a keyboard. It is recommended that you keep this in mind whenever you are looking at making changes, whether it is the new patient consults, new patients in hygiene, or how much time is allowed for a procedure. Making changes that alter the patient's perception of your practice can help to create a lifetime patient and referral source.
Interested in improving your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask us about our 1-Day Hygiene Training Program or call 877-777-6151
Coaching Your Team to Gold
Over the past two weeks we've been enjoying Olympic coverage of world-class teams competing for the gold medal. Although these amazing athletes make it look easy, peak performance doesn't just happen. Great teams must be built and maintained. What can you do to build a world-class dental team and keep it in top shape?
Know your Purpose
Do employees know the purpose of your practice? Ask each one individually. If you have communicated your vision clearly, their answers should be very consistent. If not, schedule time for your team to write a mission statement collectively.
Pick the Best People
Be an Effective Communicator
Being an effective communicator requires good listening and observing skills. This information helps you to understand your employees and what they need from you to execute well. Morning huddles are important and so are monthly staff meetings. It also is wise to hold individual performance reviews with each team member. These should happen quarterly, or more often if employees are learning new “routines.”
Clarify Job Responsibilities
Just like a winning coach, let your employees know when they miss a play. Fairly and respectfully, identify the gaps between expected and actual performance. Listen openly to what they tell you. Involve them in finding solutions. Establish clear performance standards, goals or objectives. Help them to improve in areas that need attention. By teaching and training your employees, you enable them to align with your expectations. When each person understands and executes his/her role, it leads to a winning team.
Develop Team Synergy
As the dental team leader, your responsibility is to assure that these goals are being met, collectively and individually. In addition to staff meetings, schedule time for your team to be together outside the office. Conduct a team retreat that encompasses training with fun activities that unify employees. It will keep your team fresh and motivated to perform.
Be a Determined and Tough-Minded Coach to your Team
Winning the gold is about inspiring your team to give their best effort. It's tough work unifying individuals into a cohesive group. It takes time, coordination, and the right mix of personnel. It takes planning and preparation. Add to the equation personalities and conflicting goals or ideals and it becomes even more problematic to find a team of people that work well together - let alone on the fly at a moment's notice. But ask any Olympic team if it's worth it. Ask them if it's rewarding. You know the answer.
Dr. Nancy Haller is available to coach you and your staff to higher levels of performance. She can be reached at email@example.com
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.org
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