The Importance of a Patient Coordinator Position
So many patients and so many “last minute no shows and cancellations”. Why is it that the one thing that drives most practices crazy is usually the result of the most over looked system in dentistry? Not only can the system be at fault, but then there is no accountable employee overseeing the success of the system. Implementing the position of Patient Coordinator is indicated for many practices.
The Patient Coordinator’s job description can vary depending on the number of hours employed. For example, at the minimum of three hours per day, the main assignment would be strictly making telephone calls to appoint patients who are not already scheduled, due or past due. When consistent effort is applied in securing this “return business”, an increase in production and patient base will occur. As this occurs, the hours the Patient Coordinator applies to the system would be increased.
When to communicate is equally as important as how. Effective communication and education are an essential part of a well thought out and executed patient retention system. Monitoring which hours the most patients are contacted will help to determine the hours the Patient Coordinator should work each day. A monitoring form is in the back of the book, “Building a Successful Recall System,” authored by Sally McKenzie.
A successful Patient Coordinator begins with setting goals. The doctor and Patient Coordinator will outline the parameters of the tasks to be done. This provides direction, increases motivation, and provides a means of accountability.
The Patient Coordinator should have access to: insurance, telephone numbers, any comments, personal or clinical, that may be helpful when trying to retain this patient. When is the best time to reach the patient, other family members? Do they want to be confirmed? What is the patient’s email address? The account name, which can be different from the patient’s name, is needed to monitor the account balance prior to recalling the patient. Patients do not appreciate the call when they have an existing balance that they’re having difficulty paying. Likewise, the practice does not want the patient adding additional charges to an all ready delinquent account.
The patient information stored in the computer needs to be updated and current. The computer will provide a “printout”, or listing of patients who are due for return visits. Keep in mind, these reports are inaccurate as soon as they are printed, due to patients scheduling and or canceling appointments. It is also important that as the patient’s recall information is being viewed, the conversation being held with the patient can be typed and stored in the database.
Therefore, to maintain an effective automated recall system, the Patient Coordinator must be able to “work” the system from the terminal, and not a computer printout that is inaccurate shortly after being printed.
When there is a last minute cancellation or no show, call the patient immediately in order to see if the appointment can be saved. Waiting 10-15 minutes to call them may prevent the appointment from happening. Sometimes the patient may be just down the street and may be able to make the appointment.
What other resources are available to fill cancellations? You have patients who cancel and don’t reschedule…you have patients who fail appointments. Tracking patients who cancel existing appointments or who had one and failed are kept in your computer under a tickler file, or unscheduled appointment report. It is the Patient Coordinators responsibility to look at this report every day as a reference, not only to fill cancellations, but also to be proactive in making “sales” calls to get patients scheduled. Remember when they are on the report there is no increase in production.
Even if a last minute cancellation occurs, try to move the next patient ahead, if there is not a patient currently in your office willing to stay. This will allow a little more time to fill the schedule. This is the easiest measure to take in getting the schedule filled, however, patients who do not have appointments should be sought after first. Whenever possible, avoid filling cancellations with people who are already scheduled but want an earlier appointment time.
Remember an open appointment time is lost productivity. It is also our goal to help prevent any no shows or cancellations from occurring in the first place. Managing “No Shows” is one of dentistry’s biggest practice frustrations. Some practices have more broken appointments than others, but overall the situation does not discriminate from patients with lower dental IQ’s to well-educated busy executives.
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