Cha-Ching! Making Patient “Face Time” Pay Off
A recent Citibank survey revealed that during the challenging economy of the last few years, many small businesses sought to reinvent themselves by expanding services, improving staff, and increasing “face time” with customers. The extra effort is paying off for several of the small business owners surveyed, as they are seeing far more positive business conditions than reported two years ago.
Certainly, dentistry’s small business owners can relate to the value of expanding services and improving staff. But when it comes to face time, most dentists and dental teams believe they give plenty to patients. However, in this case it’s the face time that occurs before treatment that warrants evaluation - specifically, the treatment presentation. It is here that patients accept, decline, or promise to think about the doctor’s recommendations.
Understandably, many dentists feel wedded to what they consider to be treatment presentations. They will say again and again, “Patients expect the doctor to explain the treatment.” Yet, when the so-called “treatment presentation” takes place, in actuality, most dentists aren’t presenting the treatment plan. They are the opening act, if you will. Through the exam and diagnosis, most dentists merely introduce the topic for discussion.
For example, the doctor will suggest to Mrs. Patient that she consider an implant rather than a bridge. The doctor gives a brief explanation of what an implant is. The patient nods in affirmation. But the patient has only begun to register what the doctor recommended and is trying to absorb the information. The fact is that though the patient may be listening, it’s likely that she does not fully understand and will not move forward until she does. In fact, a verbal explanation has the least amount of return on investment of all the presentation strategies. The doctor, however, believes s/he has explained the procedure well and turns the patient back over to the assistant for dismissal. Now the patient starts asking questions: “So what’s this implant thing again? Why is this better than a partial? Does it cost the same? Can I get it done soon? Are other patients getting these? How will it hold up?”
In other situations, the patient is trying to absorb the information as s/he walks to the business desk, and it is here that the questions begin. Thus, the business staff suddenly find themselves responsible for providing information that could make or break the patient’s decision - and most are poorly prepared for this responsibility. Treatment presentation/acceptance is one of the most critical systems in the practice. It is here that a significant portion of practice revenues can be made or lost. It requires specific procedures, a designated treatment coordinator, proper training, measurement of its effectiveness, and accountability. Achieving the 85% goal for treatment acceptance is essential in helping the practice move forward, grow, and meet other established goals and objectives.
The time that the treatment coordinator spends with patients is absolutely critical to practice success. This person must ensure consistency in the messages delivered to patients about various procedures, and is responsible for answering the many questions that patients have but often don’t want to bother the doctor with. S/he must ensure that patients understand their options both with regard to treatment and financing, and must put patients at ease about their decisions. But it doesn’t stop there. The treatment coordinator must keep patients from falling through the scheduling cracks. If the patient doesn’t schedule treatment right away, it is the treatment coordinator who follows up. And as practices are doing more phased treatments, this requires more patient monitoring than in the past.
Additionally, the treatment coordinator tracks trends in the office. If patients are not pursuing a particular course of treatment, the coordinator is responsible for learning why so that the practice can make necessary adjustments. In addition, each time a new type of product or service is introduced in the practice, the treatment coordinator sits down with the doctor who explains what is being done and how it benefits the patients. The two identify what specific aspects of this treatment will be most important to the patients and how that should be communicated during the treatment introduction and presentation.
With a clear treatment presentation system delivered by a well-trained treatment coordinator, patients are completely comfortable discussing treatment, asking questions, and proceeding accordingly. In making the investment to maximize the quality of this type of “face time” with patients, the practice ensures the greatest return: a full and profitable schedule.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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Prepare Yourself for Learning
It’s back-to-school time. I remember the excitement of going to the store for “school supplies” and the anticipation of seeing friends after the summer break. My backpack was filled with empty notebooks waiting to be filled with new knowledge. Since you are reading this column, I would predict that somewhere along the way you saw the importance of education too. You graduated and thought you were done.
For many, that is when learning takes a back seat to getting a job, earning a living and getting on with life. But successful leaders never slack off learning. They make it conscious and take every opportunity to apply their experiences towards improving themselves. High performing leaders know that they must first be effective with themselves.
The willingness to learn and grow is key to taking your practice to its fullest potential. Yet I am amazed how bright, talented people avoid stretching themselves and going outside their comfort zone. As we age, the ability to adapt and move outside our comfort zone becomes more difficult. Many dentists who are in their own comfort zone will not challenge themselves even though they know that they could achieve a lot more. They tell themselves that it’s too time consuming or counterproductive to upset the "apple cart." They’re too busy. And so they hobble along in status quo. The end result is average performance and average results at best.
Dentists are notoriously perfectionists. On the positive side, this bodes well for precision, accuracy, and follow-through. However, perfectionists are fearful of uncertainty or ambiguity, of giving up control and letting go. They demand immediate results from themselves (and others), and are unwilling to go out on a limb and take the chance of being embarrassed. Unfortunately, this prevents true learning.
If you don't step out of your comfort zone and face your fears, the number of situations that make you uncomfortable will keep growing. Over time, you run the risk of feeling surrounded by previously avoided situations. Here are some ways to challenge yourself to learn.
1. Accept that learning or doing something new is uncomfortable. It’s natural to want to avoid that feeling, but commit to do one thing differently each day.
2. Manage your emotions and your mood state. Anger, worries, doubts, depression, and other negative emotions interfere with learning and performance. Practice deep breathing when you feel overwhelmed and pressured.
3. Be sure you maintain healthy habits. Exercise, eat nutritionally, get sufficient sleep. The stronger you are physically, the faster you will incorporate the new learning.
4. Imagine the completion of your goal and the satisfaction of "I did it." Envision the benefits of a smoother running office, more income, more time off to spend on recreational activities.
5. Nurture self-confidence. Your thoughts shape your future. Almost all anxious thoughts are irrational. Instead of worrying about possible failures and slip-ups, recognize your strengths. Remember times when you have succeeded. Reflect on experiences when you overcame adversity.
6. Give yourself “time out” from learning. Build in time to escape into music, games, reading.
7. Get support from family and friends. Get a mentor or hire a coach. Learning is hard work and you need encouragement. Feeling connected with others also reduces inner tension.
8. Avoid regret or self-blame. It will only prevent new learning.
9. Use humor. Norman Cousins said that laughing is "inner jogging." He called it a workout. Studies show that laughing lessens the need for pain medication and shortens recuperation time.
10. Celebrate progress. Reward yourself when positive change happens. By recognizing even small accomplishments, you build motivation to sustain learning.
People with learning mindsets embrace challenges because these are opportunities to grow. In turn they are better equipped to handle inevitable setbacks, and know that hard work enables them to achieve more. Show excitement about learning. Your enthusiasm will invigorate your staff and they will be more energized and positive in response to the responsibilities placed on them. And believe me - patients will notice. Dental leaders who can accomplish this will see the positive effects on their practice. It’s time to go back to school. Take charge of your learning!
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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What Makes You Better Than Other Offices?
Many offices think they are better than the guy next door - but are they? Is your office really providing better service or better quality of dentistry than the other dental offices in your area? It is always a good time to do a self-evaluation of your own practice. It is best to have the entire team give input and have them provide the information confidentially. This will allow for many different perceptions. If you have a small staff, ask family members to help give input as well, and remind them that it will only be effective if everybody on the team is truly honest.
You may want to start with the physical part of your practice, and then look at the customer service and systems. Take a tour of your practice, and have questions, paper, and pen out to record the individual input. Employees may want to do this at their own time interval instead of as a group. The team can create the list of questions. This may be done by posting a piece of paper in the meeting area with “Self Evaluation Questions” written at the top, so that staff members can write any questions they may think of that will help with the evaluation of the office. Here are just a few to get you started:
Make sure to set a date that this is to be done by, and make the date a reasonable amount of time. Once this has been done, look at the list and do the cleaning duties as soon as possible, as they do not cost a lot of money. Next, prioritize what needs to be done the soonest and start preparing financially in your budget to make the changes.
The next thing you may want to look at is the new patient exam, and the experience for the new patient all the way from the initial phone call made into your office. Again, everybody should have input. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourselves:
When the patient asks about insurance, does the team member take control and offer to call the insurance company for the potential new patient to get the information they need? Or do they tell the patient to call the insurance company themselves to see if they have an out-of-network option, in-network, or dmo? This is an example of what the patient wants to know before they come into your office.
I once made a phone call to a medical doctor that I was considering going to and they had an answering machine pick up. The friendly voice requested I leave my name and number and they would get back to me. My immediate perception was:"They don’t have time to take care of me.” I did not go to that doctor. Another medical doctor I was considering going to put me on hold so long that I again perceived: "They are far too busy.” I did not choose that doctor either.
Once when deciding to go to a new veterinarian, I had all my animals’ medical records transferred and called to make an appointment for my dogs to have an annual exam and vaccinations. The team member that answered the phone asked me what vaccinations my three dogs were due for. My first thought was: “ You are the professional in this area, not me. I have provided you with all of the information from my past veterinarian; it is now your turn. Pull the chart or look it up in the computer. Don’t ask me.” She finally did look it up, but this almost caused that doctor to have a very upset new patient.
The point is that you may be losing potential new patients to your practice by the way the initial phone call is handled. In my next article we will look at what the patient experiences once they have actually made an appointment and come into your office for their exam.
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