When the Patient Is Ready the Doctor Appears
Seize the Teaching Moments
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Turn on the television or the radio. Open a newspaper or a magazine. Visit a few online sites. What do you find? Ads. We’re inundated with recommendations to purchase a particular car, consider a new cosmetic and install a new appliance. We are flooded with information that we quickly cast off or never even see because we’re not ready to consider it.
But when our car begins showing the wear and tear of many miles, or we’re noticing the little lines curl around our smile or the fridge is no longer adequate for our wants and needs, then we are open to learning more about products designed to address them.
Such is the case when the emergency patients sit in your chair. Up until this moment, those people may not have been interested in what you have to offer. But their situation has prompted them to consider not only immediate treatment but, quite possibly, comprehensive care as well. Yet dental teams miss this opportunity time and again.
A good rule is that 85% of all emergency patients should be converted to comprehensive exams. If your rate is lower, it’s time to develop a plan to seize the “teaching moments” that emergency cases present. For starters, pay attention to cues the patient is giving. The conversation that the assistant has with the individual can be particularly useful in identifying those issues that will need to be addressed in order for the patient to consider further care.
Does the patient appear anxious or fearful? Does he/she express concern about the cost of the treatment, the possible pain or the time the procedure is going to require? Is he/she apologizing because it’s been such a long time since the last appointment? Was there a negative dental experience in the past? Is he/she angry or frustrated? While talking to the patient, the assistant should be able to identify the most likely obstacles the dental team will encounter when encouraging this patient to pursue comprehensive care.
Track the most common reasons why emergency patients wait until there is a problem before coming into the practice. From there, the team can develop a patient communication strategy through the use of scripts and educational materials to overcome those barriers.
Just as scripts are essential at the front desk when answering phones, they are critical when educating patients about the value of ongoing dental care. Moreover, they are a safety net that prepares the staff to know what to say, how to say it and when to say it. If a patient is highly anxious, the team should have a specific script and protocol that they follow to put the patient at ease. If the patient doesn’t understand why a specific procedure is needed, the staff should be prepared to respond through educational videos, printed materials, dental models, etc. Anticipating patient concerns and being prepared to address them enables staff to educate patients confidently and consistently, to seize the teaching moments effectively.
Set aside time during the weekly or monthly staff meetings to develop scripts. Don’t get bogged down in addressing every possible scenario immediately. Pick a couple of key barriers and address those initially. The doctor and team should work together to fine-tune the documents over time and to develop an easy and natural flow. Once you feel confident in using those, create a few more.
Be sure to take time to “close the deal.” After the treatment, escort the patient to the front desk, and gently stress once again the importance of ongoing care. Explain to the Scheduling Coordinator that the patient needs an appointment for a comprehensive exam. Time should be set aside in the schedule to allow emergency patients to be scheduled for comprehensive exams within the next week.
That evening or the next, the doctor follows up with a phone call to check on the patient and express appreciation for the opportunity to take care of them. Shorty thereafter, the patient should receive a new patient packet in the mail with printed information about your practice and your services, along with a handwritten note from the doctor’s assistant that expresses concern for the patient’s well-being and indicates that the staff is looking forward to seeing the patient again for a comprehensive exam on the designated date.
Seize the teaching moments and watch your conversion rate increase significantly.
Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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