Do you ever feel like you just can’t get your practice off the starting blocks? You run into situations like this one regularly: The patient, Mrs. Thompson, comes in for a routine appointment in June. She has a dental condition that you recommend she have addressed but, despite your advice, she doesn’t schedule the treatment.
In December, Mrs. Thompson is back again for another routine visit. She still hasn’t scheduled the treatment you recommended back in June. Why? This $64,000 question often has one obvious answer. Because the practice does not have a protocol for treatment presentation and follow-up. Yet the financial impact of this seemingly minor detail is nothing short of enormous. In some offices, we’ve seen nearly half-a-million dollars relegated to mere notations in the patient records – treatment that was diagnosed but never scheduled.
Take steps to turn those notations into real numbers. First, designate a member of the team to serve as treatment coordinator. This is your point person for treatment presentations. While the dentist plays an integral role in case acceptance, and the entire team is essential in continuously reinforcing the doctor’s recommendations, the details of the presentation are most effectively delegated to a trained member of the team.
The treatment coordinator follows a specific plan to achieve defined treatment acceptance goals, starting with existing patient records. As routing slips are generated for hygiene and other upcoming appointments, the treatment coordinator conducts record “audits” to determine which patients have outstanding treatment and schedules case presentations in conjunction with those appointments.
The treatment coordinator presents the treatment plan that the doctor believes represents the very best care for the patient. An effective treatment coordinator has been trained to stick to the plan and is able to effectively address patient objections or concerns without sacrificing the doctor’s recommendations. In addition, she/he follows a carefully formulated presentation for discussing treatment with the patient. The format, such as the one below, is a logical step-by-step strategy that enables the treatment coordinator to be fully prepared and the patient to be fully informed about the treatment under consideration.
- Examine the plan and treatment options before the presentation. This will involve reviewing the record and it may require that the coordinator sit down with the doctor.
- Clarify any aspects of the plan that are not completely clear with the doctor or other provider. There’s no room for guess work or “I think this is what the doctor is recommending.” That will never fly with the patient.
- Review the case presentation mentally and if you are new to the process rehearse it verbally, so you are comfortable with the flow of the presentation.
- Use necessary X-rays, models, or other visual aids during the presentation. Patients are most likely to respond favorably when they can actually see what the doctor is recommending, why he/she is recommending it, and what the results will be.
- Use any other available educational handouts to underscore the case presented.
- Prepare pre-determination or pre-estimate if that is part of the office routine.
- Calculate the patient’s portion of payment using the insurance information received or estimate to the best of your ability.
- Provide reasonable financing options such as those offered by CareCredit. These benefit the patient but not at the expense of the practice. And patients are far more likely to accept treatment when they can make affordable financial arrangements easily and quickly.
- Respect the patients’ privacy when discussing financial arrangements. One of the fastest ways to undermine a signed, sealed, and nearly delivered treatment plan is to send the patient to the front desk to make financial arrangements before the waiting room audience. All arrangements and financial discussions should be made in private.
- Have paper and pen available for the patient to take notes.
- Give the patient plenty of opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.
- Address the patients’ concerns and answer questions thoroughly.
Remember, patients look to you and your team, as the dental professionals, for sound advice and encouragement to proceed with recommended care. If they perceive that you don’t feel specific treatment is important because you’ve only mentioned it to them once or twice or haven’t taken the time to spell out specifics, they simply won’t feel it is necessary. In many cases, patients are simply waiting for more information or enough information to justify pursuing treatment.
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