1.8.10 Issue #409 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Carol Tekavec
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Help Your Patients Say Yes to Treatment

Now more than ever, dentists and staff are looking for ways to boost their office’s production numbers. Patients who were previously prepared to start or complete dental treatment may now be dragging their feet due to fears about the economy and perhaps losing a job. Patients who still have jobs and dental coverage may be less inclined to receive services not covered by their plans. What to do?

Be sure that everyone in the office is committed to helping patients receive the most complete information and education possible about the treatment the dentist is recommending. When patients really understand what is being recommended and why, they tend to accept it. Staff needs to take to heart that old adage: “Patients make paydays possible!”  Every opportunity to explain treatment and sequences should be taken. This does not mean that the dentist and staff should “talk-down” to patients or constantly interrupt the general flow of conversation.  It simply means that chances to boost a patient’s dental I.Q. should always be utilized and expanded. 

For example:  Molly comes in today for her cleaning and check-up.  She tells Mindy, the hygienist, that she has heard about implants and that her mother is interested in getting implants to replace her missing teeth.  Mindy is busy and running a little behind, but she knows that it is important to take the time to give Molly some information about implants.  She begins by explaining a little bit about how implants work, talks about the dentist and her abilities along those lines, and finishes up by giving Molly a high-quality, “real answer” implant patient education brochure.  While she is working on Molly, she continues to give pieces of information about implants, and by the end of the appointment, Molly has gotten quite an education.  Now she can tell her mom what she knows, and perhaps a new patient, Molly’s mom, will soon be coming in to the office! 

Help staff educate patients by practicing “what to say and how to say it.” For example:  One of the most common patient misconceptions that dentists and staff have to battle is the idea that a prophylaxis, root planing, and periodontal maintenance are “the same thing - the dentist just charges more.” If your patients believe this, then you have problems. The obvious fact that the experience of a prophy, root planing, and/or periodontal maintenance should be very different goes without saying.  But perhaps even more importantly, patients need to have complete information before embarking on root planing and subsequent periodontal maintenance so that there are no surprises. 

All staff members should be able to explain that a prophy is for people who do not have any bone loss or infection around their teeth, a root planing is for a person who is suffering from periodontal disease due to bacteria and diseased deposits on the tooth roots, and periodontal maintenance is for persons who have received periodontal treatment and need to keep from having their health go downhill.  Staff members need to be able to know what to say about these services when patients ask questions, and they need to know how to say it so that patients understand. One good way to get on the same page with staff explanations is to use verbiage found in educational brochures.  Staff members can talk things over with the patient and the brochure can be used to reinforce staff explanations.

Don’t let any treatment fall through the cracks because a patient cancels or breaks an appointment today - patients who cancel or break appointments need to be followed so they are not forgotten. Whoever takes the cancellation or notes the broken appointment needs to either make an entry into the practice management software or into a “tickler” file.  Most practice management software allows for listing patients who have cancelled or failed appointments.  A subsequent report (daily, weekly, monthly) can be printed letting staff know who needs another appointment and why.  Even practices that do not have computerized formats for this can easily follow up on cancelled or broken appointments.  A simple recipe file box with 4 x 4 index cards can be used.  The person’s name, phone number, and treatment needed (codes, fees, etc.) can be placed on the card and filed alphabetically.  Each day, or as frequently as the office decides is appropriate, a person can be assigned to go through the cards and call anyone who has not rescheduled. This needs to go on until all patients either reschedule, or let staff know they do not intend to come back.   

Be sure that all treatment is being charged, coded, and sent in to the patient’s benefit plans correctly. Don’t make mistakes here!  Does your office have a current coding handbook?  You need to have access to all current codes and as much information as you can get about how insurance carriers may be expected to pay toward these.  Coding correctly also makes it less likely that a claim will be delayed or denied.  Get it right the first time! A few simple steps can help your patients say “yes” to treatment.  Don’t make the mistake of neglecting to use some of the most inexpensive, yet effective, ways of doing this - patient education, staff scripting, and following through with written information.

Carol Tekavec CDA RDH is the president of Stepping Stones to Success and is listed in Dentistry Today’s Top Clinicians in Continuing Education. She is a practicing dental hygienist, and has presented programs at all major U.S. dental meetings.

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