Unscheduled Treatment - Dialing for Dollars
Quick story about you: It is time for your annual physical with your primary care physician. You schedule a 10:00 am appointment on your day off. At 9:55 you arrive and are greeted by a friendly face that acknowledges you by name and informs you that the doctor will be with you soon. At 10:55 you are dismissed by the assistant to the front desk to schedule an appointment for some blood work that is needed in conjunction with your annual exam. You know that you need to schedule it but you don’t have your calendar and you are already late for your workout at the gym. Your say to the schedule coordinator, “Gosh Sue, I don’t have my calendar and I am running late. I will call you when I get back to the office.” She says okay and you are on your way.
A week or two later, scheduling this important appointment has slipped your mind. It is not that you don’t want to schedule. You know that you need to. It just isn’t a priority right now. Fortunately for you, Sue calls you 2 weeks later to remind you of the importance of this appointment. You schedule, grateful that she followed up with you. Did you feel annoyed, harassed or berated because you failed to make your appointment and Sue had to call you? Of course not! You were happy that she took the initiative to follow up for something that you just hadn’t made time to do.
How many times do you think this scenario happens in your office? If you are tracking the percentage of patients that schedule, you should know. And you should be monitoring how many patients schedule vs. how many do not, and for what procedures. Is your Schedule Coordinator taking the steps that Sue did in this story? The biggest reason that these calls don’t happen is because the Schedule Coordinator does not feel empowered, does not see the significance, or feels that she/he is annoying the patient.
Let’s start the process and see how this SHOULD be handled in your office:
Step 1. The patient is presented to your Schedule Coordinator, Chris, who is informed by your hygienist that the patient needs a porcelain tooth colored crown on Tooth #3 on the upper right side for about 90 minutes.
Step 2. Chris reviews today's treatment, asks for any payment that is applicable, and schedules the next recall visit IF the patient can make a commitment to the appointment today.
Step 3. Chris says to your patient, “Mrs. Jones, I understand that the doctor has recommended a crown for you on the upper right side due to a large cavity underneath your old crown. He would like for you to take care of this as soon as possible to avoid additional costs relative to additional work that might be needed. I have an appointment on Tuesday morning at 9:50 or Wednesday at 3:00. Which time works best for you?”
Step 4. The patient understands but does not have her calendar with her. She indicates to Chris that she will call when she returns to the office.
Step 5. Chris acknowledges her statement and responds with, “Mrs. Jones, I know this appointment is very important. Should I not hear from you in a week or so, I am sure that the doctor will ask that I call you. Will that be okay with you?” The patient responds affirmatively.
Here is where the ball gets dropped so many times:
Step 6. Since the patient did not schedule, Chris must create a treatment plan for Mrs. Jones so there will be a way to track this recommended treatment. Dependent upon the practice management software, there are also ways to set reminders to call Mrs. Jones in a week should the patient not call back to schedule.
Step 7. A week or so later, Chris runs the outstanding treatment report for the past 2 weeks and notices that Mrs. Jones’s crown is still unscheduled. She places a call to Mrs. Jones. “Hello, this is Chris at Dr. Smith’s office. I know how busy you are and as promised, I am calling to assist you in scheduling your appointment for the crown on the upper right side that you and Dr. Smith discussed. This is the tooth that has the old crown with a large cavity underneath it. Do you have your calendar handy?”
Okay. So Chris is not successful in scheduling this appointment. She has a 50/50 chance, right? The patient indicated that she would call the office when she is ready to schedule.
Step 8. Chris runs the Unscheduled Treatment Plan Report for 3 months prior (only that month, not all months from now through 3 months). She is only going to follow up with those patients who have not scheduled 3 months ago. She must be careful to double check the patient’s upcoming appointments and history to see if the patient is still in treatment with other procedures.
Step 9. A friendly letter should be sent to Mrs. Jones, along with an intraoral image of Tooth #3, again recommending the treatment and why it is necessary, along with the potential consequence of no treatment. This letter should be signed by the doctor, giving the letter significance. A copy of the letter should be placed in the patient’s paper record or scanned into the digital record, as well as a clinical note added to indicate that the letter was sent and a copy is available.
As great as a Schedule Coordinator is, not all patients will schedule at the time of dismissal. But at least have a follow-up plan so you feel that you have done all you can for your patients. Sometimes, they just need to be reminded!
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