How to Get More Patients in the Chair
Summer can be a difficult time of year for dentists. Patients are busy taking vacations, driving their children from activity to activity, and simply enjoying the warm summer sun. Dental appointments are typically the last thing on their mind – even if they’ve already scheduled one with your practice.
No matter what time of year it is, cancellations and no-shows can really wreak havoc on your day. Scrambling to find patients who can take last-minute openings can be stressful, and the more of those openings you don’t fill, the further away you get from reaching your production goals. That of course hurts practice revenues as well as team morale.
Yes, it’s frustrating when patients don’t show up. But there are ways you can significantly reduce broken appointments and get more patients in the chair. Here’s my advice.
Pay Attention to What Your Team Members Say to Patients
Here’s an example of a common scenario that leads to broken appointments. Your Scheduling Coordinator wants to schedule a recall visit for Karen, a patient due to return in six months. Karen tells your Scheduling Coordinator that she’d rather wait because she has a busy job and three kids, and absolutely no idea what her schedule will be like six months from now. The Scheduling Coordinator, in an effort to help both the patient and the practice, tells her she should book today because if she doesn’t, she might not be able to get in at all. The practice always books six months out for hygiene appointments, and the schedule fills up fast.
Now here comes the confusing part. The Scheduling Coordinator then tells the patient that if for some reason she can’t make the appointment, she can call and reschedule then. Doesn’t make much sense does it? First the patient is told she better schedule today or risk not get an appointment, then is assured that if she needs to reschedule at the last minute it shouldn’t be a problem. Sorry, but this is a problem. You’re basically telling the patient it’s OK to send your schedule out of whack. And if she schedules that appointment before she leaves, that’s probably exactly what she’ll do.
So how should your Scheduling Coordinator handle this situation? Don’t book the patient. Tell patients who prefer not to schedule six months out that they’ll receive a notice in the mail two to four weeks before they’re due for a cleaning. Once they receive the notice, they can call the office to schedule. This way patients will have a much better idea of what their schedule will be, making them much less likely to cancel.
I know most dental practices have scheduled six-months out for years, but now might be the time to consider changing this outdated practice – especially when patients indicate that scheduling this far in advance doesn’t fit their busy lives. If you’re not ready to drop it all together, consider implementing a hybrid system and only pre-appoint reliable patients you’re fairly confident will show up. This will help reduce broken appointments and the stress that comes with them.
Look at Patient Communication
When patients schedule an appointment, ask them how they’d like to be contacted to confirm that appointment. If a patient says he prefers you call him at his office number and also text his cell phone, then do that. Regardless of how you send the communication, remember that an appointment isn’t confirmed until you get a response. Sending an unanswered text or email isn’t enough. I recommend following up with patients who don’t respond to text or email appointment reminders with a phone call.
When patients don’t show up, not only does it cause chaos in your practice, it also costs you money – and I’m talking about thousands of dollars in lost revenue every year. Taking these steps to reduce broken appointments will help make your days less stressful and your practice more profitable.
Next week: Patients not showing up? Don’t kill time, take action
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Why Bonuses Are a Bad Idea
Many of the dentists that McKenzie Management work with have implemented some kind of bonus plan into their practice. They think the promise of a bonus will motivate team members to excel, making them more likely to reach practice goals and enjoy success.
The problem is, that isn’t usually what happens. Instead, team members come to expect that bonus in their paycheck, and dentists feel obligated to give it to them even when the practice can’t afford it.
That’s exactly what happened to a dentist I recently worked with – perfectly illustrating why establishing a bonus system is a bad idea. “Dr. Wilson” was really struggling, with his overstaffed team collecting wages way above the industry benchmark and his overhead skyrocketing out of control.
To make matters worse, Dr. Wilson had seen a significant decrease in new patients over the last few months, leading to openings in the hygiene schedule and fewer opportunities to diagnose and recommend treatment. Production was down and things were starting to look pretty grim, to the point where he wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to keep his practice doors open.
Now at first glance, it looked like there was a bit of good news. The collections to production percentage, at 99%, was excellent. But after looking a little deeper, I found 6% of his total net production was being written off thanks to uncollectible patient balances. The industry benchmark is 2%.
The bonus plan in this particular practice was based on the ratio of accounts receivable to collections, and even though the practice was experiencing severe financial problems, this doctor’s team members still received their bonuses. This only made the situation worse, but the doctor felt as though he couldn’t take the extra money away from his employees. They expected it, after all.
If you have a bonus plan in your practice, I suggest you make it very clear that team members won’t receive a bonus when the practice is underperforming. They might be disappointed, but you can’t give them money you don’t have. Remember, your priority is to keep the practice profitable so you can meet your monthly financial obligations. If that doesn’t happen your team members won’t have to worry about a bonus; they’ll have to find a new place to work because you won’t be able to afford to keep the practice open.
Now, of course, I also recommend you stop giving bonuses all together and find other ways to reward your team members. Why? Bonus plans put the focus on money, when the focus should be on performance. Just like in Dr. Wilson’s case, if employees receive a bonus even if the practice is struggling, they have no reason to improve their performance. In fact, they’ll likely start to focus on doing what it takes to earn that bonus, rather than excelling in their roles.
Team members want to be recognized for their hard work and practice contributions, so what can you do instead of giving out bonuses? I suggest implementing a rewards program. Let team members know how they can earn both monetary and non-monetary rewards. Through this reward-for-performance philosophy, employees will develop more of an ownership attitude in the practice’s success and actively seek ways to improve their performance. They’ll be more creative and work better as a team. They’ll also feel valued, which means they’ll be happy to come to work each day – and that’s something your patients will notice.
Before you present your rewards program and objectives to your team, determine how results will be measured, what level of performance is expected, what kind of rewards you’ll offer and who will be eligible to receive those rewards.
Need a few ideas? Here are examples of rewards, both monetary and non-monetary, that you can offer your team members:
• Offer frequent positive feedback
Giving out employee bonuses when the practice can’t afford it will only cause further damage. Consider getting rid of your bonus program and switching to a rewards program. If you need help getting started, contact McKenzie Management and we’ll help you through the process.
Is Scaling and Root Planing Just a “Deep Cleaning?”
Many people still include the big Sunday newspaper in their weekend ritual. I for one just recently re-subscribed to the newspaper. I missed the feel of the paper and some of the little known articles and juicy bits of information not always available on the internet, especially local news and events.
My eyes glanced over the “local spot” news and I was intrigued by an article about the increased cost of living. Turns out the author was complaining about a recent visit to the dentist and his more than $500 bill for a “cleaning”. He explained that he did not know the difference between a cleaning and a “deep cleaning” as the dentist called it, except for the extra $400. He felt the dentist did a thorough job, but he was charged by the “quadrant”, which he thought was a strategy to charge more while making it look like less.
Was it my job to set the man straight? I pondered that for just a moment and then said no, it is the job of the dental practice to educate patients about the value of services provided and the consequences for not having dental work completed. Will this patient, who now needs periodontal maintenance and not a preventive cleaning, return to the practice thinking it is another ploy to overcharge?
The unfortunate thing about this article is literally thousands of subscribers will read it and think they too have been “strategized” out of their hard-earned money. Many will have questions for their dentists. So let’s revisit the author’s dental visit and analyze what communication could have changed his perception.
To begin, the entire team, from the front office to all clinical staff, should know and understand the difference between a preventive prophy and scaling and root planing. What is the difference between an ordinary cleaning and deep cleaning? There is some confusion about the difference between scaling and deep cleaning or root planing. Scaling is basically the process of removing dental tartar (calculous) from the surfaces of the teeth. Root planing is the process of smoothing the root surfaces and removing any infected tooth structure. If you have gum disease or gum pocketing, the gum pockets around the teeth will have deepened, thereby allowing tartar (calculous) deposits to form under the gum line. In order to remove these hard deposits, the patient usually needs local anesthesia (injection) for comfort.
A regular cleaning or prophylaxis is a preventive service designed to remove surface deposits, plaque and stain. The scaling and root planing procedure is a non-surgical periodontal procedure because the patient now has periodontal disease. There are many health factors that can influence a patient moving from healthy prevention services to disease therapy. These indicators can be found in the health history information they have provided and also their diet and oral hygiene home care.
Using the words “deep cleaning” doesn’t carry the weight of what scaling and root planing does to improve oral health and save teeth from eventual loss of supporting bone. I suggest you drop the word “cleaning” and say what it really is so patients will value it more.
Explaining to the patient what happens during the scaling and root planing procedure will help them to understand the fee for the service. It takes longer to do to the scaling at a deeper pocket level, anesthetic is administered, different instruments are used, and irrigation medicaments may be used along with prescribing Chlorhexidine rinse. There will be post-operative instructions for diet and home care along with the education of future periodontal maintenance every 3 to 4 months.
Not everyone needs a full four quadrants of scaling and root planing. The mouth is divided into four quadrants for defining areas of diagnosis and treatment, not to strategize charging for services. The procedure codes and standards are set forth by the American Dental Association.
Taking the extra time to educate patients and listen to whether they fully understand a certain procedure, especially when quoting fees, is very important. Patient perception is critical to practice success.
Want to improve your patient and staff communication systems? Contact McKenzie Management today for professional business training courses.
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