Attention to Insurance Detail Gets Patients in the Door
It’s common knowledge that consumers love a bargain. In fact, recent news reports talk about how over the past few years, retailers have trained consumers to expect those bargains. But now the retailers want to ease up on the price slashing discounts, and consumers are pushing back. As one article noted, “Retailers have a long way to go to convince shoppers that predictable pricing is better than the temporary promotions that they've grown to love.”
In the cost-conscious culture that has emerged since 2008, we’ve seen dollar stores explode, extreme couponing take hold, and an increase in consumer saving habits. Many of the most money conscious are the higher income, better educated population. This is also the market that is far more likely to have a stronger dental IQ and appreciate the value of dental care. And it’s the population of patients most likely to appreciate a letter alerting them to unused insurance benefits, which I explained in last week’s article.
But don’t stop there. You can significantly increase the results of that letter with just a bit more “cross marketing.” These are busy people and like all consumers, they will need to be told about an opportunity more than once. As important as the information is, keep in mind that your consumers are inundated with “noise.” They are getting so-called important messages and “special offers” all the time. Plan to repeat your message. Don’t assume that the letter alone will prompt the patient to take action. In many cases, it will plant the seed in their mind.
In addition to sending patients a letter notifying them of unused insurance benefits, contact them via email, phone, and text message. Your email should be sent a few days after the letter is sent. The purpose is to alert them that you have sent an important letter regarding monies that are available for their dental care. For example:
Our computer estimates that you still have unused dental insurance benefits available to you. Unfortunately, you will lose those benefits if you do not use them by the end of the year. We want to help you secure the insurance coverage available to you on every dental procedure you schedule, and this is an excellent time to take care of any hygiene visits or dental treatments that you might have been putting off. Just reply to this email or give us a call today at 555-1234, and together let's make sure you get the treatment you need and the most out of your dental insurance benefits.
Keep in mind that the patient may have forgotten that s/he needs a specific treatment. The doctor might have mentioned that s/he was concerned about a certain area. The patient may have promised to schedule the appointment in a few weeks when s/he wasn’t quite as busy. Unfortunately, the patient forgot. If possible, make it a point to mention the doctor’s recommended treatment for the specific patient. The message will have greater impact.
Now that you’ve sent your letter and your email, don’t overlook text messaging. This is proving to be tremendously effective in reaching patients. Moreover, many practice management software programs allow you to send a text message to your patients quickly and easily. Keep your text simple and straightforward, for example:
You have $200 in unused dental insurance benefits that will be lost at year’s end. Schedule your professional dental cleaning today. Reply to this text or call Dr. Greg’s office at 555-1234.
Finally, pick up the phone and call those patients that have not responded. For example, you might say:
Mrs. Jones, this is Sherry from Dr. Bernie’s office. It’s come to our attention that you have $500 in unused insurance monies available to you that you will lose at the end of the year. In looking at your record, Dr. Bernie recommended treatment to a tooth on the upper left side. Now would be a very good time to take care of that and ensure that you do not lose the insurance dollars allocated to you for the remainder of the year. How would either Tuesday at 9 a.m. or Thursday at 2 p.m. work for your schedule?
Remember, the last thing a patient wants to do is throw away their insurance coverage. For many, all they need is a reminder that funds are available to them. And patients will be sincerely appreciative that you took the time to inform them.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
The New Patient Experience in the Office
In my last article, we discussed what makes your practice stand out from the dental office down the street - what may happen before the patient ever walks into your practice and how the initial phone call can make a person go to the guy next door. Now, let’s take a look at what the patient’s experience may be once they actually enter the front door of the practice.
Here are some things to evaluate. The minute the patient walks in the front door, are they greeted by a nice smile and a friendly hello? Many practices have a sign-up sheet that the patient signs as they enter the door, and even if there is a staff member sitting next to the sign-in sheet, the patient does not get greeted. Many times, the sign-in sheet provides a “way out” for the front desk person to avoid greeting the patient at all. If you are a new patient, what does this say to you? It can say many things, but primarily: the people working here are very busy - too busy to even say hello.
Offices that want to go the extra mile will look at when the new patients are coming in at the morning meeting, and will have a front office person assigned to work with those patients. This person should be aware of what is going on with the schedule so they are prepared to greet and help the new patient with any forms they may have attempted to complete at home and have questions on, or forgot at home and will now be running into the appointment time. Having a person there to assist will make this process go faster and more efficiently. They will also make sure the new patient is seated on time, if not early, and will become that patient’s advocate during their appointment.
If the patient is being scheduled in hygiene first, it would be nice to have this person trained to help the hygienist with charting existing, probings, and anything else she may need. If the patient is scheduled with the doctor first, then you may want to have this person be the doctor’s assistant. This is why you and your staff will look at the schedule closely at the morning meeting to determine what will work best, and help keep everything running on time.
If the hygienist or doctor does get behind, the person appointed to this patient will find another staff member to start x-rays or take the patient on a tour of the office. Patients appreciate offices that go out of their way to start the appointment on time, and that respect their time. Once the patient is seated in the doctor or hygienist’s chair, what happens next? Hopefully, every staff member has taken the time to introduce him or herself, or during a hand-off, has introduced the person they are handing the patient off to.
What is done at the first appointment?
All of this is standard of care. So, what is done that makes your office shine during that initial appointment? Many offices do not allow enough time in the schedule or they double-book not realizing a new patient is coming in. As a result, when the patient is brought in they are hurried through their appointment and you appear to be rushed. Are you taking the time to find out what the patient’s concerns are? Did you welcome them to your practice, and tell them how excited you are to have them there? Did you ask them if they need anything special to make them more comfortable? These are the little things that many offices don’t do when they get busy.
If the patient is expecting to have their teeth cleaned at that first appointment, is it happening? Or is the patient told that because they have gum disease they will need root planing and nothing is happening that day? This will destroy trust immediately.
Could it be that what makes your practice stand out from the rest of the practices in your area is that the doctor sees the new patient for a complete comprehensive exam, and then the patient goes into the consultation with the financial advisor, and then they have their hygiene appointment scheduled? If this happens, the patient will have all of the answers to their questions before they have any actual treatment done. The hygienist can reinforce the treatment plan the doctor gave, answer additional questions the patient may have, and if they refuse the root planing at this time, she can clean the patient’s teeth and have an entire appointment to explain to the patient why they need root planing.
Having the treatment plan entered into the computer and all of the insurance figured out before the patient is done in the operatory with the doctor or hygienist is one more way you may outshine another office. People do not like to wait. Having the patient in and out of the office at the times you told them and performing the treatment they were scheduled for is very important - and this should always be a high priority. Doing what everybody else does is not going to give that WOW factor to patients and make them want to refer more new patients into your practice. Whether a new patient or an existing patient, your team should always have “red carpet and bright smiles” put on for them at all appointments.
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
Leadership 101: You Are the Boss
If you’re going to be the LEADER of your SHIP, you’ve got to see yourself as the one who’s accountable for the state of your practice. You are the boss. Be honest with yourself. What’s working, and what’s driving you crazy? Be careful to avoid the islands of ‘woulda’, ‘coulda’, and ‘shoulda’ because you’ll get marooned there. While you may not see solutions at this very moment, the first step is to recognize where you are.
Dr. Phoenix did just that. She called me to work on her leadership. Although she is not a computer expert, she is a visionary business woman. She decided to take her practice to the next level with technology and she is now in the digital world with x-rays, computers in treatment rooms and a paperless system. Compassionate and caring, she was mystified when her staff didn’t jump on board with the changes. They told her, “We’re doing fine as we are.”
This is when Dr. Phoenix needed to assert her leadership, but she thought that in time employees would see the benefits of a modernized office. They didn’t. In fact, except for one employee, they all resigned. She hired three new people but continues to have problems. She called me.
I learned that Dr. Phoenix was a self-described “push over.” There are holes in her schedule. Her new hygienist is averaging two appointments per day. The Front Office employee who has been on board for three months says she is “too busy” to scan charts and make follow-up calls. Her Assistant is taking a leave of absence and does not treat the practice or her job as a priority. Dr. Phoenix is enrolled in Leadership 101. Our first ‘lesson’ was to get the team to the 8am morning huddle. After our first call she sent me the following email:
I just wanted to let you know that morning huddle did not go well this morning. Suzy was late. So, I once again told my employees, “We start morning huddle at 8am sharp. Our office hours are 8 to 4.” I got, “I am sorry” again, and also “I was here at 7:45 and I expect to be paid for the time I work.” It was not good. I explained I am taking coaching to get the office operating the way I need to. Jane then had to leave; she had an issue and said she would return in 45 minutes. So that is where I am at right now. Any recommendations? I am dealing with a lot of attitude!!!
Here was my reply to Dr. Phoenix:
It is common that people will resist change…and that is what you are doing - changing into a more effective leader and team manager. Employees are going to give you ‘attitude’ because that has always worked in the past - you backed down. They are only doing what you taught them. Remember that your goal is to create a happier work environment for yourself and them, and for your patients. You are moving forward in order to have a highly successful business! And it is YOUR BUSINESS so you have every right to get cooperation. Visualize having that kind of office and practice because it will help you to handle this time of change and discomfort.
I strongly recommend that you stay strong and follow-through with the individual employee meetings. Hold those in private. Keep them brief - about 20 minutes. During that time you should address these key issues:1. You are aware that you have not been clear enough with your expectations nor have you followed through on matters that are very important for the smooth operation of a successful dental practice.
2. Apologize for any confusion, misunderstanding and/or hurt feelings that occurred as a result of your being inconsistent.
3. Remind each employee that you have started leadership coaching because you want to be a better boss…that you want to provide better direction and alignment for the team.
4. Emphasize that you are very interested in making the office/practice a wonderful place to work for them.
5. Kindly state that while you will do whatever you can to make it a great job for them, there will be changes and you ask for their cooperation.
6. Review job descriptions and agree on responsibilities.
7. Schedule another meeting to discuss their progress with agreed upon duties - I suggest 2 weeks.
My experience is that many doctors struggle with employee management. Running a dental practice is becoming more high pressure and the workforce is becoming more high maintenance. This calls for strong people-management skills. As CEO of your company you need to step up and be the boss. That's the job. No ifs, ands, or buts. The sooner you recognize it the better. Let me know if I can help. And I’ll keep you posted on Dr. Phoenix’s progress in future articles.
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
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