Are You Neglecting Your Practice?
It can be difficult to admit when you’re struggling as a dentist, especially if you’ve owned your practice for the last 15 to 20 years. Maybe times aren’t that great right now, but you know you’ll get through it – so you ignore the problems your business is facing and instead choose to only focus on the dentistry.
I’ve found this type of owner neglect is pretty common. After all, most dentists didn’t go to school and spend years perfecting their craft because they wanted to own a business. They did it because they wanted to treat patients.
The problem is, if you don’t take care of the business side of practicing dentistry, you won’t have many patients to treat. Like it or not, there are challenges that come with owning a dental practice. Not facing these challenges only makes them worse, whether you’re talking about practice finances, staff concerns or a host of other problems that can pop up in a dental practice.
Dentists tend to allow their practice problems to multiply until they become completely overwhelmed. They start to worry about their future, but have no idea what to do or where to turn to get their practice back on track. They know it’s time to take a good hard look at their business, but that doesn’t mean they know where to start. That’s where I come in. I can help you take a close look at the critical systems that feed your business and determine how you can improve them. And I suggest you start with how your team members handle telephone calls.
The way your team interacts with patients over the phone can have a huge impact on your practice. Saying the wrong thing will keep potential new patients from scheduling that first appointment, or an existing patient from going forward with needed treatment.
While team members are often annoyed by patient phone calls and consider them a distraction, they’re actually an opportunity to grow the practice. Team members should be trained to answer the phone with a smile and always focus on offering patients the best customer service possible. Patients never should feel like they’re annoying the person on the other end of the line or that your practice isn’t interested in helping them solve their problems. That will do nothing but send them to the practice down the street.
If you want an eye opening experience, I suggest you listen in on a few of the phone conversations your team members have with potential new patients. You’ll probably be surprised by what you hear, and not pleasantly. Many doctors who do this acknowledge that if they were the patient calling in, they’d hang up and never call back. They listen in horror as team members give patients bad advice on insurance, guess about fees and tell patients they’re just not sure if the practice offers certain services.
When team members don’t know what to say on the phone it costs you patients and money, which is why training is so important. McKenzie Management provides telephone coaching that helps team members improve their skills and ultimately get more patients on the schedule. It also helps them avoid scenarios like this one:
Patient Mike calls Dr. Taylor’s practice and business employee Connie answers. She’s friendly and conveys a pleasant attitude, which gets the call off to a good start. Unfortunately it goes downhill from there. Mike has an appointment scheduled for 1 p.m. this afternoon. It’s noon, and he’s calling to let you know he won’t be able to make it after all. Connie thanks him for calling and tells him it’s OK, and to please call back when he’s ready to reschedule. Mike assures Connie he will before hanging up the phone and going about his day.
Do you see the problem here? Not only does Connie make no effort to educate Mike about the importance of keeping his dental appointments and maintaining his oral health, she also loses the opportunity to reschedule him. Instead of letting Mike know the doctor has set aside time just for him, she gives the impression that canceling an appointment at the last minute is no big deal and he can call back whenever the mood strikes.
If this type of conversation is the norm in your practice, it’s a big part of the reason you’re struggling. Cancellations and no-shows cost practices thousands of dollars in lost revenue every year and team members must be trained to handle them properly. A pleasant tone isn’t enough. Proper training will help ensure team members are prepared for these and the many other calls that come in throughout the day, with the goal of getting more patients in the chair. This will do wonders for your production numbers and your bottom line, helping to take your practice from struggling to thriving.
Next week: 6 ways to re-energize your practice
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
Give Patients the Services They Really Want
You’ve noticed patients just aren’t accepting the treatment you recommend anymore, at least nowhere near as often as you’d like. This unfortunate new trend is costing you money and bringing both you and your team members down. It seems the only patients guaranteed to accept treatment are the dreaded emergency patients who bring chaos to your day, never to return.
That very well could be the problem. While you’re doing your best to provide patients with the services they need, you’re forgetting to also provide them with the services they want.
Just because you don’t like to perform extractions, for example, doesn’t mean an extraction isn’t the best option for the patient you’re treating – especially if the patient is in pain and that’s all he or she can afford. Some patients, on the other hand, might be interested in straightening their teeth, but only if their GP offers an option like Clear Correct or Invisalign.
The point is, if you want more patients to say yes to treatment, it might be time to expand your services. Ask patients, both new and existing, what their oral health goals are. Talk with them about the services you offer that help meet those goals, and ask what other services they might be interested in. When presenting treatment, give multiple options. This will lead to much better results than giving patients a treatment plan with just one choice. If patients aren’t interested in that treatment, chances are they’ll find another practice that offers what they’re looking for.
Now let’s get back to those emergency patients. Most dentists simply don’t spend much time treating them. Sure, they want to help get them out of pain, but the fact is, after dentists fit emergency patients into their already busy day and send their schedule out of whack, they typically never see them again, which can be pretty frustrating.
Emergency patients likely don’t come back because doctors rush them in and out and don’t take the time to provide education about the importance of maintaining their oral health. Instead they treat them and go back to their day as quickly as possible. Maybe they recommend further treatment, but they probably didn’t bother to ask these patients what services interest them. It’s no wonder they don’t come back.
Rather than treating emergency patients as a disruption to your day, look at them for what they really are: an opportunity. Clearly these patients don’t have a dental home, or they wouldn’t be calling your practice hoping you can see them. Ask why they haven’t been to a dentist in so long and start breaking down any perceived barriers. If you take the time to build a rapport, educate them and show that you care, there’s a good chance more emergency patients will turn into loyal patients.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind about emergency patients:
• They will come whenever you give them an appointment and are happy to be seen. Let them know you’re happy to see them too, and that you will do your best to get them out of pain. This will go a long way in getting these patients back to your practice.
• Because they aren’t “patients of record” yet, they can be cash patients (assuming you don’t participate with their PPO plan).
• They give you the opportunity to grow your practice. Invite them back and encourage them to schedule a comprehensive exam and hygiene visit before they leave.
Remember, these patients just want to get out of pain. If you recommend an extensive treatment plan, even if you think it’s the best option, they’re likely going to say no. Talk with them about other treatment they might need and how you can help, but be careful not to overwhelm them. You want them to schedule and keep a hygiene appointment, not run out of the practice as soon as they can.
So what are the benefits of this approach? You provide a wanted service to a patient in distress while staying productive and improving your cash flow. It also gives you the chance to promote your practice. If patients have a pleasant experience, they might even refer you to family and friends.
Being open to performing a variety of services will help ensure more patients say yes to treatment, whether they’re emergency patients or patients who have been coming for hygiene visits for years. Don’t assume you know what they want or what they can afford; ask them. When you provide them with the services they both want and need, your case acceptance rate will improve.
Hire Slow, Fire Fast
The ever changing and complicated world of hiring and firing must be treated with the utmost caution to avoid increased risk of a lawsuit. Many states have an “employment at will” statement in regards to the relationship with employees, and it sounds easy to say “I can discharge an employee at any time with or without cause.” The problem with this is that even though it isn’t working out for you and you don’t want to be in a room with this person another second, that doesn’t mean the person can’t question the reason you are letting them go or pursue the reason they think you let them go.
For instance, this story was told to me by a person who was asked to sit in on a termination as a witness. The doctor explained that he “just didn’t like her strong personality” and he needed a reason that sounded good to let her go. “She is very good at the front desk, collects the money, gets the insurance to pay, presents herself professionally, but she is a little too officious for some of the patients and myself”, he explained. “It’s her personality.”
At the end of the work day he had a severance check and her last paycheck in an envelope and a letter of recommendation. He said, “It just isn’t working out for me and I would like to have my office key now. Please get the things from your desk and leave out the back door within the next five minutes.”
She said, “I don’t understand what I did wrong?”
She filed for unemployment, was approved but was hired by another dentist before she had a chance to collect. She also put up an unfavorable review on a well-known social media job board site. This was a very uncomfortable circumstance for the doctor and employee. Unfortunately he hired in haste again two years later, and again regretted it.
Getting legal advice from an employment attorney or a dental liability insurance company that you have a current policy with would be wise if there is a doubt in how an employee should be terminated. In today’s world of “protected groups” and “gender bias” it is wise to have a strong relationship with a professional who understands the laws of your state and what to do to prevent problems.
Some things to consider when being proactive about an effective termination policy:
1. Create a policy for termination with an employment attorney or a licensed HR specialist in this area.
2. Be transparent about the termination policy that has been created so that staff is aware it exists.
3. Begin the documentation process as far as dates, circumstances and witnesses as soon as you notice a pattern of negative performance or behavior.
4. Have a support person or management person involved to reach an agreement of when and how the person is terminated.
5. Schedule the last meeting and make sure all paperwork for dismissal is ready, including severance pay and final payment and benefit statement.
6. Make sure the electronic and physical access to the workplace is disconnected just prior to the person walking out the door. This includes return of door keys and resetting alarm passwords and computer station passwords.
Documentation is extremely important for creating superior employment records and for risk management against termination suits. There will always be risk, but the more prepared you are the better your chances of avoiding a very sensitive situation and financial loss. Termination of employees remains one of the most difficult tasks for dentists and their managers, and is not a “cookie cutter” situation but is dependent on the individual risk factors involved.
Hiring right takes a good system with careful investigation and documentation. McKenzie Management can put you on the right path with professional business training courses that cover hiring and management of staff, so call us today.
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