Not Converting Emergency Patients into Loyal Patients? Here's Why
When emergency patients call your practice, they’re likely in a panic. Not only are they in a lot of pain, they feel like they have nowhere to turn. They don’t have a dental home or anyone they can trust with their oral health care. They’re calling your office, hoping you can fit them in and alleviate their pain and discomfort as soon as possible. They’re scared, and might even be ready to start thinking about prevention and the benefits of comprehensive dental care.
It’s a stressful situation for these patients, and if you don’t plan properly it can be stressful for your practice as well. All too often practices see these emergency patients as a nuisance, and are annoyed when the panicked calls come in. After all, most emergency patients disappear after they receive treatment and only serve to throw the schedule out of whack and add aggravation to your day.
Emergency patients are often seen as a negative, but the truth is, you should look at these patients as an opportunity. 80% of all emergency patients who walk into your practice should be converted into a comprehensive exam, according to the industry standard. If that isn’t happening, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to grow your patient base, your production numbers and your bottom line.
Starting to see how emergency patients can benefit your practice? If you want to convert emergency patients into loyal patients, your team is going to need an attitude adjustment. These patients can tell if your team members see them as an annoyance, and if they don’t feel comfortable or wanted in your practice, why would they come back? Even if they’ve decided it’s time to find a dental home, they’re going to quickly mark you off their list and start looking for a practice that makes them feel welcome.
If you want to successfully convert these patients and maximize this opportunity for practice growth, it’s time to develop a plan – and it all starts with that initial phone call. It might not be intentional, but practices often send a negative message to emergency patients who call in the hopes of scheduling time with the doctor. The Scheduling Coordinator is annoyed by the interruption, and frustrated because the schedule is jam packed as it is. She sighs, and lets the patient know it will be difficult to squeeze him into the doctor’s very busy schedule, but she’ll do her best to work him in today. Before hanging up, she reminds the patient that payment is expected up front.
After that conversation, would you want to call this practice your dental home? Probably not. Instead of laying the groundwork to convert this patient into a comprehensive exam, the Scheduling Coordinator made the patient feel like a nuisance, and conveyed that the practice cares more about collecting payment than getting the patient out of pain.
When emergency patients call in, they should be greeted by a warm welcome. I suggest developing a written script to help team members effectively communicate with these patients. No matter how full the schedule is or how stressed out an emergency patient might make team members feel, you must treat them with compassion and understanding. These patients are scared and in pain, so team members need to take the time to put them at ease and assure them they’re in great hands.
All too often, practices focus on getting these patients in and out as quickly as possible so they can go about their day. That will pretty much guarantee you never see them again. Instead, use the appointment time to educate patients about the benefits of prevention and comprehensive care, and they’ll be much more likely to come back.
To make it easier to fit emergency patients into your schedule, identify where they should be placed. This will ensure that the Scheduling Coordinator knows exactly where emergencies should go in the schedule each day and there will be no surprises for the clinical team – making it much easier to happily welcome emergency patients to your practice.
Up until the day they had a dental emergency, many of these patients never even thought about the importance of maintaining their dental health through comprehensive exams and prevention. During their visit, you have the opportunity to educate them, address any perceived barriers to care, and put any dental-related fears to rest. If you welcome these patients, provide a comfortable, friendly environment and offer much-needed education, you’ll find that many emergency cases will turn into loyal patients who can’t say enough good things about your practice.Next week: Six ways to convert emergency patients into loyal patients.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Several years ago I worked with a wonderful dentist who said to me, “The most valuable tool I have learned from you is the importance of our monthly meetings!” Can you say the same thing about your monthly meetings? Maybe you don’t even have monthly meetings…many practice owners don’t.
In many offices, one of the primary concerns of team members is a lack of communication. If you are an introverted dentist (many are), the last thing you want to do is communicate with your team members. The worst case scenario is when they come to you at the end of a long day and say, “Doctor Smith, do you have a minute?” But providing feedback to your team is very important to them. They want to know how they are doing, how the practice is doing, how Mrs. Jones is doing, was the letter that your Financial Coordinator wrote to a patient okay, and so on. All day long they are wondering to themselves, “What is he/she thinking?”
Let’s start with the mechanics of a productive monthly meeting:
Where – in the staff lounge, if it is big enough. The reception area will work if you can conclude your meeting before patients start arriving, or you can go off-site if necessary. Have breakfast food available so your team knows you value this meeting and their time (yes, they are on the clock, but you still value their attendance).
When – avoid meetings during lunch. You will run behind or miss the meeting all together because of the emergency patient that needed a crown. We are only talking about once a month, so set aside a morning as early as possible the second week of the month and schedule these meetings out for the next six months to avoid appointment conflicts. A good monthly meeting with solid agenda items and practice statistics can take 90 minutes or more.
How – a pre-planned, printed agenda is a must. My guess is that historically, you have sat down with your team and opened a can of worms by saying, “What would you like to talk about?” The printed agenda should be prepared by that month’s Meeting Coordinator and everyone takes a turn, including you. The typed agenda should include a space for those in attendance, all the new agenda items that need to be discussed, any incomplete agenda items from previous meetings, and the practice statistics. Your team wants to know: Did we win or not win the ball game? We played hard, but did we win? They only know when the numbers are discussed, along with the goals to determine a “win” or not.
• Names of those in attendance
The order is not relevant. What is relevant is making sure that when a topic is discussed (an agenda item), a conclusion is drawn to either be implemented at the next meeting or researched so additional steps can be taken, and it must be determined who is going to take care of the task.
I often sit down with the team at lunch and listen to everyone share ideas that have been discussed at past meetings. They are enthusiastic and engaged, until I ask if these items were implemented. With saddened faces, they say “no”. Great employees want to feel as though they make a difference. You want their feedback, as it is difficult to carry the ball alone. It is simply a matter of having an organized and safe work environment, and knowing that what they have to say is important to you and the rest of the team.
Make it a priority to schedule a monthly meeting within the next 3 months. Review the schedule with your Schedule Coordinator and find a time that allows for at least 90 minutes. Pass out a form to your team that indicates when the meeting is, the purpose of the meeting (to share ideas on how to make your practice even better than it already is), and ask them to write down five topics they would like to have discussed. Ask that the form be turned in no later than two weeks prior to the scheduled meeting. Be sure that it’s upbeat, you don’t want them to think something is wrong if this is the first time you have done this!
If you have a “party planner” in your office, ask her/him to come up with a game that only takes a few minutes and has a winner. Bring a gift card as a reward. Be creative and make it fun! You may be surprised at how well your team will respond and enjoy having a voice.
Spending Too Much Time on HR Duties?
As a dentist, your goal is to diagnose dental health care options to patients, sell the benefits and produce the dentistry. The time allotted to production can often be derailed by staffing and administrative issues that you feel you just don’t have the time or desire for anymore. Outsourcing is an option, but few dentists pursue this approach due to cost and instead give a staff member the title of “Office Manager” and pass the human resources torch over.
Taking on extra responsibility or a new title and role in the practice is a boost to the career of the dental auxiliary, but it can be a disaster if the person is not prepared for the new job responsibilities. Office Manager duties may involve understanding and interpreting financial reports from the computer software system, tracking production and collection statistics and managing production goals. Developing a financial policy for your patients and knowing how to handle patient objections and difficult situations is part of the daily routine for an Office Manager in a dental practice. Sometimes this is enough to manage without the Human Resources component added in to the equation. In large organizations, Human Resources is a separate department away from the operational systems of the business. Primarily focused on recruitment, hiring and evaluating employees, while also making sure to comply with employment and labor laws of the state, this job is not one to be hastily undertaken. Understanding the terms “protected groups” and “generational differences” in the hiring process is important to job recruitment tactics, as an example.
The hiring process has evolved from resumes and applications to adding background checks, credit checks and confirming identity of the applicant. Employment development laws vary from state to state, and there can be stiff penalties for non-compliance. “I didn’t know” is not an excuse, because as an employer you are responsible to know.
The person responsible for HR duties should be familiar not only with state laws, but with federal laws in regards to non-discrimination by race, age, disability or gender. What constitutes harassment, sexual harassment and laws related to pregnancy leave, military leave and a host of other issues must be understood. Training in HIPAA and OSHA (federal mandates) so this person is knowledgeable enough to represent the office should there be an issue of investigation is important.
Managing areas of overtime, family leave, personal leave, absenteeism and vacation time can derail an office if it does not have a clearly written Employee Policy Manual. The HR person will be involved in creating written job descriptions for each employee, plus being involved in performance reviews and also with the dreaded employee notice given to those with unacceptable behavior in the office.
Many dental offices suffer from the “revolving door” where the average dental employee spends under three years at the job. There are several reasons for this, but at the top of the list is the fact that the job they are hired to do is not the job they thought they were getting. One woman told a story of being hired as an Office Manager only to find out she was expected to seat patients, break down rooms and put instruments in the sterilizer. She was excellent at business skills but disliked going into the clinical area, particularly to scrub and pack instruments. When she voiced an objection she was labeled as “not a team player” and was later dismissed from the practice. She filed for unemployment and received it. Hindsight would say if she had a detailed job description presented to her during the hiring process, she would have eliminated herself and the practice would not have wasted their time training her and introducing her to the patients.
Using an outside payroll company can save more than it costs, because this is an area where there are often mistakes in calculations. Outsourcing the prescreening of applicants to a staffing company that specializes in dental personnel is a good option if you communicate not only the job title but a detailed job description and personality profile of the person you are looking for. The staffing company can check licensing, references and background for you. A properly screened applicant can save a lot of time in your busy day.
Need help in establishing a good Human Resource policy? Call McKenzie Management today for help in all areas of hiring and management of your practice.
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