You've traveled this long, dusty road more times than you care to remember. You know where the potholes are, but you still haven't figured out how to avoid them. The conditions are typical. The patient needs considerable dental treatment. You face the inevitable question: Do you spend hours preparing a blockbuster show complete with models, slides, radiographs, photos, etc. only to have the patient appear interested yet never schedule more than the bare minimum? Or do you save yourself the time, energy, and frustration and simply recommend what you anticipate the patient will pursue?
Your vision is to present ideal dentistry to every patient in your practice, but your reality has convinced you that vision may be more of a hallucination. If treatment acceptance in your practice isn't in the range of 85%-95%, it's time to consider whether you have the right person doing the right job.
Dentists often assume that if a patient requires extensive treatment they expect to hear that information from the dentist directly. While that may be the best approach in many instances, it isn't in all. Oftentimes, low treatment acceptance is rooted in the patient's lack of dental education and understanding. The dentist may firmly believe that Mr. Smith comprehends what is being proposed and will proceed with treatment only to discover that he has multiple questions that he is trying to clear up with the scheduling coordinator. Mr. Smith didn't really get this part or that aspect of what he was being urged to do, and he didn't feel comfortable raising the questions with the doctor.
This is where the treatment coordinator steps in. While the dentist must discuss certain issues to meet informed consent standards, such as the nature of the problem, recommended treatment, potential complications from the treatment or complications if no treatment is available, many other details can be addressed by the treatment coordinator.
For example, the treatment coordinator can spell out for the patient the number of appointments that will be necessary, what to expect at each appointment, the length of time that will be required for each appointment. She/he also can cover issues of concern that the patient might have such as worries regarding pain or discomfort. And she can discuss the all important issue of treatment financing.
Patients perceive that the coordinator has the time to answer questions and listen to concerns. They can raise difficult or awkward questions that most would never consider posing to the doctor, such as:
Does the dentist have enough experience with this procedure and are they good at it?
Is there a guarantee attached to this type of comprehensive work?
Have many of the doctor's patients had this treatment?
If you were me would you have this done?
What's more, patients often see the coordinator as someone who can understand their financial concerns and their need for financial options.
Clearly, this isn't a job for just anyone. Your treatment coordinator needs the right mix of personality personality traits, clinical expertise, and people skills. Assign the responsibility to a member of the staff or hire an employee who offers the following:
- Is quick to build rapport with patients.
- Has an understanding of dentistry and dental procedures.
- Believes in the doctor and his or her skills.
- Is well organized.
- Is able to comfortably discuss fees and financial arrangements with patients.
Provide professional training for the treatment coordinator, and assign the individual the following responsibilities:
- Educate patients about dentistry.
- Conduct case presentations.
- Complete new patient introductions.
- Follow-up on unscheduled treatment.
- Build insurance information files that can be accessed easily.
- Present fees for the recommended treatment plans and establishing payment terms with patients.
Treatment presentations require considerable time and preparation. While the dentist plays an integral role in case acceptance, numerous details can be effectively delegated to a trained member of the team. It may be the road less traveled for many practitioners, but it could be the best route to increased treatment acceptance.
If you have any questions or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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