New Patients: What Keeps Them Coming...or Not
Have you found yourself wondering lately where have all the new patients gone? It used to be that you could count on a certain number regularly streaming into the practice, but for the past 8-12 months you’ve noticed a change, and it’s killing your bottom-line. The trend is particularly troubling considering that the economy has been steadily improving for several months. So if you can’t blame the economy, what is it? Someone or something is cutting new patients out of your practice.
If new patients are not in your chair, they are in someone else’s - and there’s likely a very good reason (perhaps several) as to why. More marketing and advertising might give you a temporary boost, but I can virtually guarantee you’ll be facing the same shortfall a couple of months down the road. You need to discover the “why” behind the loss.
It’s time to pull your head out of the operatory and examine your practice from the patient’s perspective. Is something happening when prospective patients call? Everything sounds fine on your end, at least when you happen to hear staff exchanges with patients. But what if you could sit on the prospective patient’s side of that phone call and be the proverbial fly on the wall?
It’s called a telephone assessment, and it enables doctors to gather valuable feedback as to what calling your practice is like from the patient’s point of view, a “mystery patient” of sorts. Without fail, these evaluations are eye opening for the doctor and instructive for the staff. They enable the team to objectively evaluate their telephone strengths and weaknesses in communicating with patients. Moreover, they give dentists the opportunity to hear their practices from the patients’ point of view. It enables doctors and their teams to gather a far better understanding of how effectively the business team communicates the practice brand, particularly in new patient exchanges. But the best part is, the assessment enables you to identify exactly where the practice can improve - in first impressions with prospective patients and phone communication overall.
Certainly, it requires a fair amount of courage to take the microscope to what is truly the front door of your practice. Human nature is such that most dentists want to believe all their patient experiences are positive and their entire team is simply wonderful. However, the numbers often indicate otherwise.
The good news is that once shortcomings are revealed, most teams take quick action to address them. In many cases, staff simply don’t realize how they come across to patients over the phone. Moreover, they don’t understand their actions are having a negative effect on the office. Yet once they become aware, in most cases, they are ready and willing to make necessary changes. But dentists have to be willing to investigate the problems in order to implement solutions.
Don’t stop there. Consider surveying your patients to gather some honest feedback from a good cross-section of your existing patient base. It’s very rare for patients to voice concerns directly to the dentist. Why? Because in most cases, patients like you and respect you, and unless they are very upset, few will ever call problems to your attention.
They really don’t want to bother you with a negative report on how rude and unfriendly your front desk staff is. They don’t want to trouble you with information concerning the apparent lack of consideration your financial coordinator displays when it comes to making sensitive financial arrangements in front of a waiting room full of curious listeners. They don’t want to tell you about the hygienist’s interesting but inappropriate stories.
Each of these negative experiences slowly chisels away at patient loyalty, and then one day you personally do something that becomes the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Like any other strained long-term relationship that ultimately fails, the turning point is seldom a major infraction. Rather, it is the culmination of many smaller and seemingly insignificant breaches that ultimately splinters the relationship. And quietly, the patient decides to check out that dentist her sister has been raving about or the one who did the amazing smile makeover on his colleague. Whatever the reason(s), unless you make the effort to find out, you will likely never know exactly why seemingly loyal patients walk away from your practice. They just disappear, leaving you to absorb the ongoing financial fallout.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Credentialing or Re-Credentialing & Negotiations: Feeding Your Practice!
Across the nation there are associate dentists entering into existing practices and dentists purchasing their own practice or fee-for-service office who are interested in becoming dental plan providers. Do you find yourself in one of these situations? Some common questions that come up in these scenarios include: Who do I contact? Where do I start? How do I choose?
It is important to know that all dentists who have associates need to credential them individually. Credentialing is based on the Tax Identification Number (TIN/EIN), the physical office address, and the dentist’s license. If any one of these three things changes, you are no longer considered an in-network provider with most plans. This also applies to dentists who are credentialed elsewhere. Keep in mind, it is imperative that you indicate the treating dentist’s name on all claim forms. Most dentists are honest, ethical professionals who are unknowingly putting themselves at risk of committing insurance fraud by not disclosing the treating dentist on the claim form in order to retrieve in-network benefits. The up side of this is when you credential your associate, their name will as well be listed in the provider directories - giving you and your associate the opportunity for more exposure to obtain new patients for each plan.
If you are a dentist who has purchased a new office, the same protocol applies. You cannot utilize the previous owners’ information for the benefit of an in-network status of the plans. Nor can you utilize your credentials from any previous office you may have worked. Timing is everything with credentialing and negotiations. There are trigger points to retrieving a higher fee schedule with some plans according to the signed contracted date or previous participation. The best case scenario is to be an in-network provider of the plans of your choice and have patients the very day you open for business.
There was something to be said about patient loyalty in the past, and it seems that those times have somewhat passed. It has often been demonstrated that fee-for-service offices that have never been in-network providers have lost up to 30% of their revenue. With more and more Americans becoming insured medically, dental insurance is being offered along with medical insurance and patients are utilizing the benefits. Patients will often leave an office when seeking the benefit of an in-network provider, saving their family hundreds of dollars a year. If this is the case in your office, it may be time to consider participation with dental plans. Of course, you will need to make this decision based on your own preference.
Re-credentialing is required by most dental plans every one to three years, or upon expiration of documents (i.e. Malpractice, etc.). Maintaining your re-credentialing is just as important as your initial credentialing. All dental plans have their own protocol for re-credentialing requirements and they are very time sensitive. Unfortunately, in some cases dentists never even see the requested document as it may appear to be trash or junk mail to your staff. It is always advised for you to open all mail from the dental plans prior to discarding. What generally happens is the deadline for submission has passed and you the provider are no longer in-network. This is now a problem not only for you but for your patients who thought you were in-network and now you are not. Not only are you going to have upset patients, you will have wasted staff time trying to contact the plans to find out what exactly has happened and how it can be corrected. You could also lose your fee schedule and have to start all over. Value your time and your staff’s time by being proactive and complying with the re-credentialing requests.
It’s so important to understand the plans and credentialing in the manner that best benefits you and your practice, as I’m sure this is your ultimate goal. Ensuring that you are receiving the best possible fee schedules with all of your plans, as well as maintaining your credentials, is imperative to keep your status active with the plans of your choice once you are credentialed.
These are just a few pointers about credentialing or re-credentialing & negotiations that will help feed your practice.
Melanie Miller-Aranda is the Co-Owner of Insurance Credentialing Specialist. Her experience working in the dental field since 2000 has given her insight to provide a credentialing service to the dental community.
Melanie can be reached via email at email@example.com
Knowing the Numbers
There are many numbers in a dental practice that doctors should be aware of other than the checkbook. These “other” numbers directly affect your bottom line and how much the practice is actually making. The numbers I am talking about have to do with the hygiene department, the past history of the practice, and the possible future needs of the practice. Although many important reports should be monitored on a regular basis, we are going to concentrate on the hygiene department. Let’s take a look at how some of these numbers may be of help to your success.
Sue the Hygienist has decided to cut back her hours to work two days a week instead of four. This is acceptable to the doctor and he is happy to still have her as part of the team. Most doctors would now decide they have to hire another hygienist two days a week to make up for the two days they are going to lose. They might think they have to keep the same amount of days, even though the office has a high rate of no-shows and cancellations and does not really have an “ASAP List” and the other three hygienists working four days a week have open time.
However, Sue’s dental practice has been tracking open time, cancellations, and no-shows for the last 10 years. They immediately retrieve the numbers and compare them to the year before. In doing so, they see exactly how much open time in hygiene has taken place over the last year because of “changes in the schedule.” When the doctor and hygienist look at the amount of time that Sue was available but did not have a patient in the chair, they realize they may only need to hire another hygienist one day a week.
However, they don’t stop there. They look next at how many patients they anticipate having in hygiene in the next six months. They generate all of the reports and find that the approximate number of patients expected to return for hygiene appointments, including new patients, is going to be less than the amount of hours they will have in hygiene. They determine that only 93 hours of hygiene time are needed per week, and they have 103 hours available to schedule. So even with one hygienist dropping down to two days a week, they will still have 10 extra hours of hygiene time a week available. Hiring another hygienist to fill those two days would not be cost effective. This would directly affect the checkbook.
At this time, because of the past history and future speculations of the office, they are better off not hiring anybody. Initially the hygiene department’s monthly production may be about the same in comparison to the past, but because of their chairs having patients in them, their hourly production will go up. Their goal is to not only need the 10 extra hours of time, but to increase the overall hygiene time they will need in the future.
This will be done by asking patients for referrals, marketing the practice, creating value when it comes to the hygiene appointment, and providing customer service that is better than what patients expect. This practice would not have ended up with the extra time in hygiene if they had been looking at the numbers and monitoring them on a regular basis all along. In the past, before they started looking at the numbers, they would just add hygiene time to the schedule whenever it seemed like they were having a hard time finding an appointment. Now they have statistical information to look at, and hygiene time is added based on the evidence.
Want to learn how to monitor your hygiene department and increase productivity? Learn more about our One Day, In-Office Hygiene Performance Program HERE.
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
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