What Makes a Patient Buy into a Treatment Plan?
Priorities. When your priorities and the patient’s are in sync, treatment acceptance increases exponentially. Why? Because the patient feels that you “get it.” You understand their wants and needs and the patient feels they have control because you have talked to them; you have taken the time to get to know them. There is no pressure. There is no “selling.” You are delivering on the patient’s needs and desires.
But how do you get to this place in which your priorities and those of your patient are in sync? It begins with taking the time to truly understand the patient, starting with the new patient interview. The most important objective of the new patient interview, which should be conducted by the treatment coordinator, is to gain a clear understanding of what the patient wants.
Additionally, you are carefully building the foundation for what you hope will be a positive, long-term relationship between the staff and the patient. And, perhaps most importantly, you open the door for the patient to have a frank and honest conversation about his/her oral health. You can tailor the questions as you wish, but the patient should feel safe in expressing how they truly feel about their smile. Here are some examples:
In what way is your smile important to your professional and personal life? Does your smile give you confidence when interacting with people, both personally and professionally? What, if anything, bothers you about your smile or your oral health in general? If I gave you a magic wand, what would you change about your smile? Do you ever have problems with chewing or with pain in your mouth? Have you ever had a negative experience in a dental office? If so, can you share with me what happened and how it was resolved? On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you place the value of keeping your teeth and oral health in optimum condition?
As the patient answers the questions, the treatment coordinator should enter the patient’s comments into his/her electronic record, so that the doctor can review and discuss them further with the patient during the exam. Understanding the patient’s feelings about the appearance of his/her smile and attitudes toward oral health and dentistry, enables the doctor to walk into the exam much better prepared to quickly establish rapport with this person. Moreover, the doctor knows the patient's specific priorities. From there, common diagnostic tools including the intraoral camera enable the doctor to discuss how s/he can address the patient’s oral health priorities as well as educate the patient about the condition of her/his mouth.
If a patient is unhappy with the appearance of their smile, it's important to give them the opportunity to point out specific areas that they would like to change, explain why, ask questions, and feel that they are beginning to establish a positive relationship with the doctor. In educating the patient about how they might achieve the desired priorities, the doctor can explain the disparity between what the patient has and what the patient wants or needs. For example, a patient with large MOD silver fillings may never have noticed the blackness that appears on the sides of the teeth and in between when smiling. Based on the patient’s expressed desire to have a beautiful smile, this person may be far more interested in considering porcelain crowns after being shown how his/her smile actually looks to others.
The plan presented to the patient by the doctor should include the number of visits, length of each visit, how that pain will be managed, and how the patient will look upon completion. Make sure the appointment allows plenty of time for the patient to ask questions. Discussions about the cost of treatment, expected payment schedule and applicable financing options should be turned over to the financial coordinator. However, if treatment presentation is delegated to a well-trained treatment coordinator, s/he should be able to effectively explain all aspects of recommended treatment as well as all financial options.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Affording Dentistry Is A Choice
Yesterday, “Lucy” was in the office and commented to her hygienist that she was thinking about retiring soon. The hygienist congratulated her on this decision and was happy for Lucy. As the appointment came to an end, Lucy commented to the hygienist that she did not know if she would be seeing her anymore. The hygienist immediately asked Lucy why, and Lucy said she would be losing her insurance if she decides to retire.
Now - what would happen next if this patient were in your hygiene chair? Would you say, “Oh, I will miss seeing you” and move on? Would you make a note in the chart, and move on to the next patient in the schedule? What would you like to happen?
One option would be to say to the patient, “Lucy, even if you don’t have insurance you still need to take care of your health.” The patient may reply back, “Yes, but if I don’t have insurance I won’t be able to afford it.” Just this little conversation tells the hygienist a lot about the patient and her concerns, but the hygienist will want to confirm with the patient at this time that her true concern is money.
“Lucy, I understand that you are concerned with being able to afford your future dental appointments, because you will not have insurance.” Once Lucy confirms to the hygienist that this really is her main concern, it’s time to have the next conversation, which takes very little time and may save the practice from losing a patient, and may help a patient realize that she can afford to have the future dental care that she needs and wants.
“Lucy, you may be surprised at how little you need to save every month to be able to maintain the health of your mouth. I will give you the worst-case scenario when it comes to having your hygiene appointments, x-rays, and exams as long as you don’t need any restorative.
4 periodontal maintenance appointments - $157
$913 divided by 365 days in a year shows that you would need to save $2.50 a day. This is less than a soda, a cup of coffee, or even worse a pack of cigarettes a day. Even if you need a crown at approximately $1200 for one, with insurance you would more than likely have to pay 50% of anyway. The daily amount that you would need to save is $5.79 a day. The x-rays I included are based on the most costly, a full mouth series. We only take these every 3-5 years but I wanted to make sure you were prepared for those also. The years we take what we call bite wing x-rays will cost even less. Just think if you put away enough every year to pay for a crown, and don’t use it, you will be creating quite a savings account for yourself for dental care.”
This conversation does not take any time at all. The hygienist can even provide a cushion in the dollar amounts to provide for fee increases. (The fees used in this article are fictional and created to give an example only.)
Usually we would not want anyone but the financial coordinator going over fees, but this specific conversation started in the hygiene room. The hygienist is not quoting fees specifically and is the person the patient has chosen to discuss this with - possibly because the hygienist is the person Lucy feels most comfortable having the conversation with.
Even if the hygienist does not chose to have this actual conversation with the patient, knowing how affordable maintenance of the oral cavity really can be will help to prevent the hygienist from getting into the mindset that the patient can and will only do what the insurance will cover. If the patient does have more involved questions, then the hygienist should refer the patient to the financial coordinator.
This is a great conversation to have with patients that are losing their insurance, or who say they can’t afford treatment. Patients may even have a flex spending account that they can put money in, and because the money is taken out of their paycheck prior to taxes, oftentimes this amount will not even be noticed. When patients are educated and informed by the entire dental team about treatment needed, the cost, and how affordable it is, patients will be more accepting to continue their care.
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
It Doesn’t Take a Wizard to be a Great Leader
As a life-long ‘Wizard-of-Oz’ fan, I was eager to see the new film, Oz…The Great and Powerful. It gives us a glimpse into the man behind the curtain before Dorothy and Toto. Like the original movie, we see a small-time magician in dusty Kansas. But this time it is Oscar Diggs (nicknamed Oz) who is hurled away in a tornado. He arrives in a land by the same name, a land that had no leadership at the time. Although he was not the Wizard they wanted, Oz reluctantly transforms himself into a good man who becomes a great leader. How did he do it? He enabled the impossible to become possible.
I won’t spoil the movie in case you haven’t seen it, but I will tell you that it underscores the most important responsibility of a leader in any organization... to instill a belief in followers that they can achieve the desired end goal. From my own experience, I've learned there's no magic in the way inspirational leaders operate. However, what they do consistently is to awaken a positive and powerful source of human potential in others. And that can feel magical.
When I think about inspirational leadership, I think of people in my life that pushed me beyond what I imagined I could do. A 2nd grade teacher who taught me that mistakes can be corrected. A high school chemistry teacher who helped me to feel smart. And a graduate school mentor who got me through my dissertation. Inspirational leaders are people who make you feel better about yourself, who believe you are capable of more than you realize.
When you inspire others, they want to work beyond what is expected. Of course, in light of today’s conditions of continual change and upheaval, it’s easy for that focus to shift to putting out daily fires as a means of feeling some form of accomplishment. But think about what might happen if you re-directed your energy towards helping your employees to excel, despite the obstacles that stand in their way.
Often the fear of failure prevents many dental leaders from trusting employees to actually do the job. However, when given the chance to prove themselves, many succeed and it becomes a win-win. This does not mean, of course, that you set the employee up to fail. Rather, you entrust them with a task involving the right amount of supervision to ensure they do succeed. Once the employee develops a sense of confidence to accept more responsibility, they become more willing to accept the next challenge and as a result they gain that sense of purpose and meaning you want for them.
Stop to consider the possibilities. How would you like your practice to be? Think back to a time when it was that way, even for just one special day. What if you started talking about that vision?
Invite your employees to recall a day when they felt that things were going well. It’s essential that you ask the right question. As an example, if you want to improve patient service and satisfaction, you could take a traditional approach: “What can we do to minimize complaints?” However, the better question is, “When have patients been pleased with us, and what can we learn from those moments of success?”
Hold a staff meeting and swap stories. Be detailed. Pay attention to the excitement that is generated as you and your employees tell and hear each other’s stories. Get everyone involved in a conversation about what they were good at, and the outcome of those positive efforts.
Note the common themes in the stories. Explore the ingredients that made those ‘high moments.’ This is not the same as picking the ‘best’ story. The purpose of this step is to identify the factors that are consistently present in those moments of success. It is important that you involve all your staff in finding those elements.
Build on the momentum of the energy that is created. With your staff, articulate the vision. What will it be like when those ‘high points’ are present every day? Together, craft a collective picture of the future. This is a good time to write your practice mission statement. Have it printed. Post it throughout the office.
Create the future. What are the circumstances that will allow you and your team to repeat those elements of success every day? Encourage creative brainstorming with someone taking notes. Be specific about the action steps that each person will take to achieve the desired result.
What we focus on becomes our reality. It’s not magic, but neuroscience research shows this to be true. If you want a different workplace, stop talking about problems and start envisioning possibilities. Make your focus achievement and joy, not problems and distress. The outcome is energy and success. Pay attention to what your employees are doing right. Transform yourself and your practice. No wizardry required.
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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