Yes to Doctor, No to Susie - Then What Happens?
We all know that those patient records sitting ever so proudly on your shelves or in file cabinets behind the front desk are NOT active patients. Active meaning that they have been seen by your hygienist or you for their professional cleaning or periodontal maintenance appointment in the past 12 months, and Inactive meaning that they have not been seen…
First, why is this so important to know? Active vs. inactive? It is not uncommon for an office to have1500 patient records that the doctor considers “active” patients because their record is still “up front.” However, a recall/recare report for the upcoming 12 months for patients with and without appointments reveals 750 “active” patients and 200 “past due.” What happened to the other 550 patients?
You probably are feeling and thinking that the 550 patients that are MIA, as well as the 200 that are past due in the past 12 months, will return - at some point. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. How do you know?
Importance of a Follow-up Plan
Patients with incomplete treatment also need to be contacted to encourage them to complete the recommended treatment. Scheduling for a crown on a tooth that is asymptomatic is not high on most patients’ priority lists. They must be gently reminded of the benefits of treatment and the risks of non-treatment.
The Recall System
There are five steps involved, starting with the initial contact to “remind” the patient of a previously scheduled appointment, or for those patients that elected not to schedule in advance due to their busy personal and business schedule. These contacts can be made using text messages, emails, notices mailed or phone calls placed. These contacts should be made 2-4 weeks in advance of their due or scheduled dates.
In the same month that you are contacting the patients for the upcoming month, the Patient Coordinator is also contacting those patients that are due this month that have not scheduled. A phone call is placed in hopes of reaching the patient. “Hello Mrs. Jones. This is Nancy at Dr. Brown’s dental office. Dr. Brown noticed that we failed to make your professional cleaning appointment that is due this month. Do you prefer a morning or an afternoon appointment?”
By accepting the fault of not scheduling her appointment, opposed to insinuating that she didn’t make her appointment when she received her notice, the patient is not put on the defensive and becomes more approachable.
Patients that are one month past due should be called as well, using the same script. The 2-month past-due report reflects those patients that should receive a friendly and informative letter relative to the necessity of being seen on a specific time schedule. This letter should be printed on letterhead stationery and mailed with a first-class stamp. 6-month past due patients should be contacted by phone, text or email and subsequently sent a letter, again on letterhead stationery.
Lastly, those few (hopefully) patients that are on the 12-months past due report would receive a final letter, indicating a waiver of responsibility due to their non-response to the previous efforts to schedule their hygiene appointment. This also concludes any future attempts to contact the patient at this point.
When a procedure(s) is recommended to the patient AND the patient does not schedule the appointment, unless the treatment that is recommended is entered as a “treatment planned” item, there are no computer-driven reports that can be generated to follow up with this patient. In some practice management software systems, even if an appointment was made, but a treatment plan was not created, should the appointment be cancelled/deleted, there is no record.
Not all patients schedule their “next” dentist appointment, unfortunately. Patients say “Yes” to the doctor, and then quickly tell Susie, your Schedule Coordinator “No.” When they say “No” to Susie, if the treatment that was recommended is not entered as a treatment planned item, the “needed” treatment will not show up on any report. Short of auditing all your patient records and yellow sticky notes, there is no method of follow-up for these patients. You wonder what happened to those 550 patients whose records are on your shelves, they are still waiting to be “followed up” with!
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