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5.30.08 Issue #325 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

The 60 Second Conversion:
Emergencies to Comprehensive Exams
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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In stressful situations, people don’t necessarily remember what you did but often rather how you made them feel. When managing an emergency patient, that point couldn’t be truer. Take steps to ensure that your emergency patients feel good about your staff, your care, and their decision to choose your practice and you’ll find you’re well within striking distance of that much-desired 80% conversion rate.

Start with a little sensitivity training for staff on the front lines. Business staff, who tend to be more task-oriented and are much more comfortable when the day runs according to a specific plan, occasionally need to be reminded that emergency patients are likely to require more empathy and concern than they may typically convey in their day-to-day patient communication. The emergency patient should feel that your practice is one that is understanding and helpful—not punitive.

Oftentimes, emergency appointments are viewed as negative and potentially problematic by the patient and the staff. Consequently, practices commonly send the wrong message to those patients that they must interact with under emergency pressure. The person is squeezed into an already full schedule. Although it’s probably not intentional, this patient is frequently viewed as an annoyance, an interruption to the day rather than an opportunity. And that message comes through loud and clear to the patient.

Listen to how the emergency patient calls are handled. Are these conversations warm and welcoming? What is the staff member’s reaction? Irritation? Frustration? Does it depend on the time and the day? How would you feel if you were an emergency patient calling your office? Would you be glad you chose this practice or would you feel that the practice’s primary concern is the payment rather than the patient?

Here’s what happens in many offices: The scheduling coordinator takes the call and scans the already full schedule. With a labored sigh, she/he tells the patient it’s going to be very difficult for the practice to work them in, but they will. Oh, and doctor expects payment up front. Within the first 60 seconds of contact with that emergency patient, your practice is laying the groundwork for conversion to comprehensive exam …or not, as the case may be.

I recommend dental teams develop phone scripts to help them effectively communicate with emergency patients from the very first word. A script provides a general guide to assist all staff in gathering necessary information, conveying essential details, and continuously expressing a helpful and caring tone and attitude throughout the exchange, no matter who picks up the phone,

Whatever the circumstances—full schedule, stressful situations, etc.—emergency patients must be treated with compassion and understanding. Believe me, I know this can be tough for your highly task-oriented and incredibly efficient office manager who is lightning fast on the computer and spits out numbers…production, collections, accounts receivables…with a pinpoint accuracy a sharpshooter would envy. But this is when she/he and the rest of your highly efficient business staff need to step back, take a deep breath, and put forth a caring and considerate tone that would make Florence Nightingale beam with pride.

When patients arrive at the office for an appointment, the business staff welcomes them and greets them with a smile. They assure patients that the clinical team is excellent and that they will take very good care of them. In addition, they give patients a general idea of how long their wait will be. They ask if patients would like assistance completing their paperwork. If patients are in considerable discomfort, they take them into a consultation room or other quiet area where a staff member can help them complete practice medical forms and other documents. The focus should be on making the process as easy and comfortable as possible for patients.

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