Practice Struggling? It Might Be Time to Revamp Recall
If your practice is struggling, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what’s holding you back. You and your team members continue to do your best to move the practice forward, only to get the same result: abysmal patient retention numbers, lackluster production and low team morale.
This is frustrating. But once you understand what the problem is, you can start taking steps to make the necessary changes. In many cases, a broken recall system is the culprit. Dentists tend to ignore this important system, and have no idea that neglecting recall is the main reason their practice is hurting.
I can help you get your recall system back on track so you can finally realize true success and profitability. Here are my tips:
Consider hiring a Patient Coordinator. Over the years, I’ve talked to many dentists who say they simply ask their hygienist to call past due patients when there is down time. If you’re among them, it might be time to make some changes.
Your hygienist should be focused on producing, not spending time dialing for dollars. I suggest you hire a Patient Coordinator to take over this important task. Now I know what you’re thinking. How can I possibly afford to do that? Let me break it down for you. A good Patient Coordinator should be able to handle a patient base of 500 to 1000 in about 15 hours a week, at a rate of $15-18 an hour. Once your coordinator starts getting recall patients back on the schedule, boosting practice productivity, you’ll see this is money well spent.
Of course, you need to provide your Patient Coordinator with proper training if you want this team member to be effective, as well as a detailed job description that clearly outlines your expectations and performance measurements. The job description should include how many past due patients the coordinator is responsible for calling each day, and how many you expect to see on the schedule.
It’s also a good idea to develop a written script your coordinator can follow during these calls. Remember, this is an opportunity to educate patients about the services you provide, the importance of maintaining their oral health and the possible consequences of not going forward with treatment. Make sure the coordinator has access to patient information, and spends time addressing patient concerns and perceived barriers to care.
This team member should also be comfortable working with your practice management software to send email and text message reminders, so be sure to provide the proper training. Keep in mind this is how many patients prefer to be contacted, and is an important part of your recall system.
Always make sure you and your hygienist are on the same page. Your hygienist spends a lot of time with patients before you even enter the room. During the appointment, the hygienist educates patients about the value of oral health care and talks with them about problems in their mouth. Unfortunately, all this education goes out the window if you come in and tell patients everything looks good – which is a common problem I see in many practices.
I suggest you touch base with your hygienist as soon as you enter the room. Ask what was found and then talk with patients about any trouble spots the hygienist identified. Tell patients you’d like to take another look at these areas during their next visit. This keeps messaging consistent and also helps patients understand why it’s important to schedule treatment and keep coming back for their hygiene visits.
Focus on education. This is key to connecting with patients and establishing loyalty. If you take the time to educate patients, it shows them you care. It also helps them understand the value of the services you provide and of maintaining their oral health, which in turn makes them more likely to come back and refer your practice to family and friends.
Don’t rely on generic recall cards. There’s a good chance any recall cards you send with puppies and balloons on them will only end up in the trash. Along with calling past due patients, I suggest you create reminders. Customize the reminders for each patient and emphasize the value of returning to your practice. The cards should fit into an envelope and reflect your practice’s professionalism. Sure, they cost a little more than the generic cards practices typically send out, but they’re much more likely to encourage patients to pick up the phone and call your practice, giving you the results you’re after.
If your practice is struggling, chances are a lackluster recall system is partly to blame. Implementing these changes will help revamp your recall system, and that will ultimately grow practice production numbers and your bottom line.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
No-Cost Ways to Improve Your Practice Bottom Line
All of us are looking for ways to improve production and collections in our dental practices. With the advent of corporate dental offices and the influx of dentists into desirable locations, competition for patients has never been fiercer. We need to stay alert as to ways we can stand out to our current patients and drive more new patients to the practice.
Needless to say, websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, TV advertising and even targeted postcard marketing all have their place in putting a spotlight on what our practices have to offer. But all of these have a financial cost and/or time investment. While well worth it, there are also a couple of easy, no-cost methods to improve the bottom line in our offices.
1. Daily designated emergency times can make your practice very attractive to new patients who find themselves with a toothache and want to be seen right away. It is likely that patients without a “dental home” looked online to find you (hence the absolute requirement to have a website or Facebook location). Even patients who already have a dentist may discover their dentist is not available for an emergency, or they were put off by how the staff treated them when they called and have therefore sought you out.
It is known that staff sometimes view emergencies as a big problem and may be less than welcoming. The dentist gets behind schedule, patients with existing appointments become annoyed if they have to wait, and the hygienists run late waiting for exams when the dentist is unable to stay on schedule. Emergencies can ruin a well-designed day, but they are also a great source of new patients. A patient who is seen right away and has his or her pain taken care of becomes a fantastic advocate for the practice.
Since we know that new-patient emergencies are important, what happens at your office when they call to make an appointment? An appointment time that same day should be offered immediately. One way to handle this is for the dentist to view the schedule at the start of the day and designate a morning and afternoon time that the front desk staff can use for an emergency patient. If the schedule is already jam-packed, a 20 minute slot can be opened up at the end of an existing long appointment.
With the time available, staff knows where a patient can be worked in. An important proviso for making this function is that the dentist must not do more treatment than just getting the patient out of pain – completed treatment must be put off for a future appointment. This way the patient will feel better, the schedule will not be compromised, and a detailed treatment estimate can be provided to the patient so he/she understands the fee and any insurance coverage. Front desk staff can also encourage the patient to set up an appointment for a complete exam, stressing that it would make sense to check the entire mouth so a similar emergency doesn’t happen again. In the evening, a staff person or the dentist should call or text the patient to ask how they are doing. This contact underlines your practice’s concern for patients and encourages them to come back.
2. Carefully planned hygienist to dentist “hand-offs” can make the difference between a patient who schedules needed treatment, and one who lets things go. Hygienists tell me it is very demoralizing to have set the stage for a patient to accept necessary periodontal treatment and then have the dentist say, “Well, your tissues took great!”
To be fair, most dentists are rightfully focused on restorative and may not have that much time with the recall patient. But a chance for the patient to receive treatment they need (as well as added revenue for the office) is thrown away when this happens. It also makes the patient wonder if the hygienist knows what he/she is talking about, which is not good.
When a hygienist notices a cracked filling or other restorative concern and lets the patient know that the dentist may recommend a crown or other treatment, what happens? Perhaps the dentist says, “Oh, that’s something we can watch” or worse, “I don’t see what you are referring to.” To avoid this, there needs to be a way to communicate what the hygienist has previously told the patient, and what the dentist subsequently conveys during the exam.
A somewhat “scripted” hand-off can solve this. When entering the treatment room, the dentist can greet the patient and then say to the hygienist, “Did you notice anything I should take a look at today?” The hygienist can then express any findings on the patient’s perio condition or possible restorative needs. When the dentist makes the assessment, he/she can either say, “I agree that Mr. Patient would be a good candidate for scaling and root planing”, or “I am glad that you pointed out to Mr. Patient his gum condition. Let’s schedule him for a follow-up with you in about six weeks to see how he is doing with his home care. If not enough improvement is seen, we will definitely have to set up a perio appointment.”
This verbiage reinforces the hygienist’s assessment in front of the patient, while preserving the dentist’s diagnosis and knowledge of the patient’s condition as the “final word”. When a possible restorative issue is noted, the dentist can say, “I agree that molar needs a crown,” or “I see what you are talking about, but I would like to wait until Mr. Patient’s next recall to decide if further treatment is needed. Make a note on his record to double-check this tooth next time.”
Again, the hygienist’s assessment is supported and the dentist’s final diagnosis is preserved. When patients receive information about possible treatment needs from the hygienist and the dentist confirms it, patients are very likely to go ahead with treatment.
These two examples illustrate no-cost ways to improve the practice’s bottom line. They require just a little pre-planning, but can make a big difference in the office’s success!
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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