Are You Derailing the Next "Big" Case?
Strolling through the shoe department at Nordstrom recently, I struck up a conversation with one of the associates. There were several of them working in the department that day, each more eager than the last to assist me - proudly demonstrating Nordstrom’s legendary customer service.
“Russ,” who I would say is in his mid-to-late-forties, was telling me about the latest spring styles. As we were making small talk, Russ asked me if I was visiting the area. I explained that I was in town for a dental meeting. That was all Russ needed. His face lit up like a five-year-old on Christmas morning. In an instant he went from shoe department sales clerk to dental evangelist and proceeded to tell me about his “great” dentist. Grinning from ear to ear, his perfect smile gleamed. He pointed to his top teeth and then the bottom. “See these?” he said. “I love my smile. I waited years to get this done. I invested thousands of dollars and I’m so happy I finally did it. I have eight veneers on top and another eight on the bottom. I could have bought a car, but I wanted to do this.”
I couldn’t help but wonder how many dentists would have never considered recommending elective treatment to this department store shoe salesman. Of course, being in the dental field you hear about these stories, but when the patient is sharing his personal experience and genuine appreciation for what dentistry has done for him it is nothing short of powerful.
How many dentists would have had the courage to recommend veneers to the shoe salesman? After all, if you are going to put yourself out there and propose a $15,000-$20,000 treatment plan, you want to present it to someone you assume can afford to pay for it, right? Evidently, Russ’ dentist didn’t let this patient’s seemingly modest professional status get in his way. Perhaps he introduced Russ to the possibilities with a more conservative recommendation of veneers on the top four anterior teeth. Or maybe Russ walked in and told the doctor exactly what he wanted, and he was prepared to pay whatever was necessary to get it. One thing is certain; the dentist listened to this patient. As a result, Russ happily shares his positive experience with total strangers.
The takeaway here is obvious. Give patients what they want, and start giving them what they want well before they are in the chair. Let me explain. You simply never know when a patient like Russ is calling your practice to schedule a new patient appointment. However, too many practices have specific procedures for “managing” new patients. They call these protocols. I call these obstacles. Rather than paying attention to what the patient is asking and making every effort to accommodate the patient’s request, practice staff insist on “educating” the patient about payment policies, insurance policies, cancellation policies, doctor’s policies. For example, a new patient calls because they want to come in for a prophy, but the staff has to educate them about how the doctor wants things done. “Before we can schedule you for a cleaning, the doctor’s policy is to do a comprehensive dental exam and take x-rays first.” This shortsighted, overly controlling approach makes it clear to prospective patients that their desires come second to the practice policies.
Instead, stop and really listen to what patients want. When a prospective patient calls and asks for a cleaning, s/he should be scheduled for that procedure within one week. If the patient has a clinical concern, schedule him/her to see the doctor as soon as possible. Give them a fantastic introduction to the practice first and save the "practice policies education" for another time. For many of you, this is common sense standard operating procedure. For others, however, it’s a stretch.
When a new patient comes to your practice, treat them like a rock star. This is the beginning of what both of you hope will be a long and happy relationship. You simply never know when the department store shoe salesman is going to show up and request a multi-thousand dollar treatment plan.
Next week, treatment plan Priority #1.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Treatment Acceptance and the Sales Process
When asked “What percentage of the treatment proposed is actually accepted and completed?” most dentists say: “I’m not sure, I guess about 80% or so?” The percentage may change, but the response is usually the same - they aren’t sure, and they have never measured this important system in their practices. It is important to know this statistic to measure the effectiveness of marketing systems, treatment presentation systems and delivery of care systems in your practice.
Up until recently most software could not measure this percentage either, so we had to calculate it manually. You can get a total dollar amount from the unscheduled treatment plan report, but this report is often inaccurate with treatment that has been completed but was not removed from the treatment plan, or there are patients on this report going back several years who are not going to return to the practice. The first step is to clean up the database of unscheduled treatment to reflect the last two years and verify accuracy of the treatment on the plans. If a patient has not been in for more than two years you can indicate that the treatment was rejected and do not delete the plan entirely. If the patient returns to the practice after more than three years, a comprehensive exam should be completed and appropriate diagnostic tools used to re-establish the patient and create a new treatment plan.
Contact your software company for a report that shows how much treatment was planned, how much was accepted (scheduled) and how much was completed by date range by provider. If your software does not have the capability of producing this report, or you are on an outdated version, then you will have to track it manually. Create an Excel spreadsheet to manage the numbers.
The next question is: Who is going to do this job for the practice? In small solo practices this is a task for the Business Coordinator, but it can be delegated to a Dental Assistant. In larger practices with multiple providers, a Treatment Coordinator would be responsible for tracking treatment acceptance statistics. In order for the information to be accurate, all staff should be trained on the importance of entering treatment services and products recommended into a treatment plan in the computer. There should be no paper treatment plans or scanned treatment plans. The proper ADA code and the standard or PPO fee would be documented on each treatment plan.
When you know that the numbers are being entered correctly, you can track them and measure them. The sales process of treatment flows with the following progression:Scenario One
In any of these scenarios where treatment is not completed, you will be able to track it from the unscheduled treatment plan report. The Treatment Coordinator will work this report daily by making 5 outbound calls a day to patients with unscheduled treatment and record the outcome.
Learn the ins and outs of Treatment Planning by enrolling today in the Treatment Acceptance Training Course through McKenzie Management.
A Patient Departs
I just got a phone call from my dentist’s office, telling me that it’s time to come in for a routine cleaning. It was the second reminder. They haven’t figured it out yet that I’m looking for another dentist.
I’d rather not be making the change. If this dentist was nothing else, he was familiar. At least I knew how to get to the office, and where to park. But it’s not as though I’m leaving a close friend or a trusted healthcare advisor. My dentist barely spoke to me when I was there. His staff didn’t know my name. I went in, I sat down, I opened my mouth; he came in, he sat down, he went to work. He never asked me anything at all about my dental regimen, diet or eating habits. I never felt like more than just the procedure at hand. The relationship, if you can call it that, was between his instruments and my MasterCard. I won’t be returning his calls.
I’ve moved around the country over the years, and I’ve been to other dental practices like this. Their way of doing business might be more the standard than the exception in the dental profession. Most practices I’ve visited didn’t see impersonal care as any problem in the first place. Some that did tried to compensate for it using a luxurious waiting room with soft chairs and green plants, and spectacular equipment beside every chair. I’d suggest that both are missing the point.
Your Most Effective Instrument is You
My former dentist is 30 miles away, and that’s too far to drive to be treated like a number. If my friend the dental student were within 300 miles, I’d be in her office regularly. It might sound unrealistic or unprofessional for a dentist to think in these terms. Passion and enthusiasm are great; throughput, cash flow and time management are what keep a practice going day to day. I’m not asking you to weigh one against the other. I’m asking you to see them all as indispensable, both to the pleasure you take from your work and to the bottom line of doing it every day.
It’s never difficult for you to spot indifference in the businesses you patronize. If all they care about is getting through the day and tallying up the receipts, you aren’t likely to stay with them, no matter how they compensate. Bring that same attitude into your dental office and no matter how you disguise it - even from yourself - your patients see it. The new equipment and the comfortable waiting room can’t conceal it.
There is no gap between joy and practicality in life or in business, any more than there is one between oral health and systemic health in the body. Your cash flow and throughput might rest, far more than you realize, on the little impressions you and your staff make on me with simple passion. If you exclude your enthusiasm from your practice, you might exclude mine.
David Clow is a writer/consultant for Fortune 100 companies. His book, A Few Words from the Chair, is the first book written by a patient for dental professionals and students and is available here.
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