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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