5 Steps to Prepare for Profits
Is your practice still struggling? Do you stare out over an empty patient reception area and wonder if they will ever return? Is your annual income flat or going down? Why is this still happening? There is no question that the last seven years have marked a cultural shift in patient behaviors when it comes to dental purchases. And many practices continue to fight cancellations and no-shows. Yet too often dentists and their teams underestimate the direct role they play in influencing those behaviors. They also often underestimate the true cost of each opening in the schedule. Consider this, if your practice’s hourly production must be $600 to cover overhead, and there are six 10-minute units per hour, then each unit is worth $100. Ten minutes here, 10 minutes there adds up quickly. Every minute matters.
Now, you may be keenly aware of the value of your care but you’ve likely come to realize that many patients are not. And far more of them are inclined to delay treatment than they were years ago. Although we have seen very real improvements in the economy, many patients remain cautious in their spending and are likely to want flexible payment options (more on that later). Yet it remains true that if they understand the need and the importance of the care they are to receive and they have a positive relationship with the practice, they are far more likely to schedule necessary and/or elective treatment.
However, too many dental teams do little but wring their hands, shake their heads, and long for “the good ol’ days” when patients simply did what they were told. They see their practices as victims of the changing dental marketplace. They’re not, but dental teams can’t sit there and wait for things to change – again – and neither can you. Take action, starting here:
1. Focus. Use the daily huddle to focus on today’s schedule as well as what is booked for the next two days, and adjust as needed. For example, “Ms. Molly” is scheduled for a hygiene appointment at 10 a.m. tomorrow. You notice that she has not pursued treatment on the small cavity that was diagnosed at the last appointment. Doctor has an 11 a.m. opening tomorrow. Call Ms. Molly and let her know that doctor is concerned about that cavity, and he could take care of it tomorrow. Gently encouraging her to pursue the care that she needs before the problem becomes more serious helps her to understand the value of treatment and the fact that she’s not just another patient churning through the perfunctory hygiene appointment. Still hesitant to make the call? Remember, your practice has a professional obligation to diagnose treatment needs and provide opportunities for patients to pursue necessary care. It is in Ms. Molly’s best interest that you to pick up the phone.
2. Connect. Use text, email, and phone communication to reach your patients to confirm appointments. Ask them what their preferred method of communication is. Don’t be surprised to find that the majority want you to communicate with them electronically. It’s fast, efficient, and it gets the job done. It’s 2014, get off the phone and into the 21st century.
3. Encourage. When scheduling appointments, ask patients if they would like to be contacted if an opening occurs before the day they are scheduled. This is your “on call” list. It is an essential tool when filling last minute cancellations via text message, email, and yes even the phone. The ability to text patients and alert them of a short-notice opening in the schedule is essential and can save a last-minute threat to the daily production goal.
4. Be Proactive. If you are looking at a sizeable opening in the schedule, such as a full morning or afternoon, your target audience for these appointment times are patients with treatment diagnosed but not scheduled. How do you identify them?
5. Check the Treatment Plan Report. Follow up with the right patients. The scheduling coordinator and the doctor should meet weekly to determine which patients are to be contacted. Be selective, and read the documentation. When a patient is told that they need a particular procedure, it is essential that the specifics of what the patient was told and their reaction to the recommended course of treatment are documented, and can be referenced in the follow-up conversation with the patient.
Next week ... eliminate the #1 barrier.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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The One Tool that Will Make or Break You
It’s the most important piece of technology in your practice. Everyone uses it. It’s the gateway to a full schedule. It’s the central nervous system of your profitability. It is your most valuable marketing tool. So why do so few of your employees know how to use it effectively? Because it’s “just the phone.” And that attitude is catastrophic to practice growth. According to Google, more than 60% of customer searches that result in a contact to the business will be via phone, and that percentage is increasing not decreasing.
Thus, as current and prospective patients Google your office specifically or search online for dental practices near them, it’s often because they are ready to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment and/or gather additional information about your services and your schedule. That phone call, that interaction with your staff, will be a defining moment in their decision to schedule the appointment or put if off a little longer. It will be the point at which they decide to make your practice their dental home or skip to the next one on the Google search page.
So what happens when current and prospective patients call your practice? Do you know? After all, it’s way up there at the front desk, and you are busy in the treatment rooms building relationships with your patients, recommending treatment, delivering superior care. But what about the patients you’ll never meet or never see again because those who verbally convey your brand day after day are telling patients that you don’t have time, you are not flexible, you are not helpful, nor are you patient, kind, or compassionate. Not directly, of course, but the message is still clear. Don’t believe me? Consider these oh-so-common telephone scenarios that are taking place right now in practice after practice.
The phone rings, the business employees are busy. They don’t have time for the distraction because they are taking care of more pressing concerns, like the patient in front of them. The result: “Doctor’s office. Please hold.” Click. In a mere four words, the employee told the caller that this office is too busy to extend the simple courtesy of politely asking if they could be placed on hold. At least the patient knows immediately that this practice doesn’t have time for them.
In other cases, the prospect is reeled in a bit more slowly. For example, this office’s inflexible policies do little to encourage patients to schedule: “Dr. Boyd’s office. This is Mary. How may I help you?” Things start out beautifully. Caller: “Yes, I am new to town and I would like to schedule an appointment for my two daughters. They will be starting school next month, so I wanted to get them in before that.”
A family of new patients, now that is exciting! The staff member should be enthusiastic, welcoming, and prepared to make it as easy as possible for the parent to get her children in to the practice. Instead, the mother is told, “Just so you know, Dr. Boyd does not take dental insurance, so you will be expected to pay at the time of the visit.” Well now, how’s that for rolling out the welcome wagon!
Oftentimes, employees simply don’t realize how they come across over the phone. They believe they are doing their job and making sure that callers know the rules and the requirements of the office. It never occurs to them that their job is to make people want to come in for an appointment. Their responsibility is to reassure callers that they have made the right choice and the doctor and dental team will take excellent care of them.
Take a few simple steps to improve phone communication immediately:
Effective telephone skills among your team are absolutely critical in communicating your brand and conveying your practice philosophy to current and prospective patients from the very start and in every interaction thereafter. If you don’t know how patient phone calls are handled, it’s likely that they are not handled well. Find out. Then train your employees to ensure that the primary gateway to your practice profitability isn’t a concrete wall.
McKenzie Management offers Telephone Skill Training to help improve your business team’s communication skills and secure new patient appointments. Details can be found HERE or call us at 877-777-6151.
Interested in speaking to Gene about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Friends and Family and Your Accounts Receivables
“The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege.”- Charles Kuralt
One of the most important reports in evaluating the performance of a dental practice is the Accounts Receivables report. This report shows in detail the patients’ names and the amounts of money owed to the practice as estimated insurance payments and as patient payments. The goal of healthy accounts receivables is to have less than 10% of monies owed aged into 90 days. However, this percentage is often higher due to the sensitive nature of collecting money from people - especially friends or family members of the dentist or staff members. These amounts often sit on the report and age well past 90 days, making the report burgeon into a convoluted mess.
Because every friend or family member on the report has a story associated with the balance, it is impossible to hire a service to formally collect what is owed. If the practice has a Business Coordinator who is familiar with the people on the report and knows who to send a statement to or who to leave alone, it works for the time being… but what happens when that person is no longer there and the new hire looks at the report in angst?
“Don’t send statements until we go over the list. There are special circumstances and I don’t want some people receiving a collection call or a statement,” warned Dr. Niceguy. In Dr. Niceguy’s practice there were senior discounts, there were family member discounts, there were professional peer discounts, there were church member discounts and there were reduction in fee discounts for payment in full at the time of service. There was also unlimited free dentistry to all staff and their immediate families. When added to the write-offs for in-network insurance patients, the adjustments on the accounts were in the thousands monthly. It wasn’t any wonder that Dr. Niceguy struggled to make payroll every pay period.
There are many problems associated with discounts, but the biggest is not to collect in full from those that are receiving a discount (or reduction in fee). The purpose to providing a “discount” is to give an incentive to buy and pay at the time of service. Sending statements to people who have been given substantial discounts is counter to a sound collection system. If there isn’t an agreement in writing for how the debt is to be paid, do you really expect the debt to be paid?
Friends and family may expect a discount, but the communication needs to include that you expect to be paid for your services. Before considering giving discounts (reductions or adjustments) have your current standard fee schedule analyzed to determine if the fees are considered usual, customary and reasonable for the procedures provided and by the geographical area. If your fees are below what is being charged in the area, then you are already providing discounted dentistry. If you are an in-network provider for any preferred provider organizations, you are also providing discounted dentistry - so no additional financial courtesies are to be awarded to these groups. Placing a yearly cap such as $1,000 for each employee insures that everyone is receiving the same dollar value dental benefit and the practice is able to manage this expense.
If there are people on your accounts receivables report that you have no intention of collecting from, then adjust it off and decide if this is what you want to continue to do in the future. It is already certain that you cannot afford to give thousands away each month. If you do not bring value to the services that you provide, no one else will either.
If you are giving multiple types of “discounts” consider limiting it to one standard “reduction in fee” based on the total of the treatment with payment at the time of service. If your fees are within UCR, a 5% reduction in fee is recommended. The possibility of giving a reduction in fee off of larger cases or doing a “no charge” adjustment on certain services is always a possibility when negotiating a “win win” situation. Using financing such as CareCredit with the 6 to 12 month interest free option is popular with patients, and you are paying the interest for the period they choose.
Want to learn how to set up systems at your front desk to insure patients are happy and you are getting paid? Call today and sign up for the Front Office Training or the Office Manager Training and learn the skills necessary to get your accounts receivables under control.
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