Create Your Own Positive Change In '09
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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There’s been a fair amount of talk about change in recent months. Change in our elected officials, change in our country’s policies, change here, change there. For some practices, change can’t come soon enough, but I’m not talking about external change (the stuff you’ve been reading about in the newspaper or watching on television). I’m talking the internal change that only you can make in your practice—the change that many should have made early in 2008.
For months, practices have been suffering from a serious case of tunnel vision. You’ve been so busy doing the same thing with the same people the same way that, even when economic shifts demanded new approaches and strategies, you were so far into the tunnel of doing things the way they’ve always been done that you couldn’t see a way of doing anything different.
It’s easy to get lost in being busy when the next task, procedure or problem waiting for you to address is the single most important item on your list. Perhaps you’ve known some things could be improved, updated, maybe even overhauled, but up until recently you told yourself you didn’t have the time to think about it. So the team just scurried along, enduring the same old problems.
Enough is enough, Doctor. If the struggles of 2008 taught us anything it’s that problems ignored become crises with potentially disastrous effects. Certainly many practices have suffered their share of no-shows and cancellations in the past year, but have you suffered them because your employees never considered changing how they talk to patients?
The goal is to use verbal skills to control the schedule by guiding patients to specific openings. Avoid asking the patient, “When would you like to come in?” The Schedule Coordinator should know when the next available appointment is for the procedure required and guide the patient to that time. For example, say, “Mrs. Jones, we can see you on Tuesday the 4th at nine o’clock or Thursday the 6th at 3:00 p.m. Which would you prefer?”
In addition, take steps to discourage patients from canceling appointments. Last-minute cancellations are a source of frustration and significant stress for everyone, and they can quickly undermine daily production goals.
When patients call to cancel, ask for permission to put them on hold, access their files and try to find something that will motivate them to keep their appointments. If a patient is coming in for a crown prep and the doctor has a note on the treatment plan that the decay was deep or the tooth was fractured, the Schedule Coordinator should mention it to the patient. For example, say, “Mrs. Jones, I’m looking at the doctor’s notes and she indicated that there is significant decay in that tooth. I know it is very important that you keep the appointment; would you reconsider?” A patient may still cancel, but some will be convinced to keep it. Moreover, calling specific attention to the patient’s need for the appointment further underscores the value and importance of pursuing the recommended treatment.
Beyond that, practices need a mechanism to follow up with patients who cancel. Many practices are seriously lacking any type of follow-up system. Patients will cancel and it will be months before anyone in the practice even thinks to try to contact them again.
Routinely emphasizing the value of ongoing oral hygiene care has never been more critical, particularly because many patients view such visits as optional rather than necessary treatment. Hygienists should take the time to verbalize exactly what they see clinically. At the end of an appointment, remind the patient about findings, such as the pocketing on the lower left that is of more concern now than it was at a previous appointment.
The “everything looks great, see you in six months” approach is the best way to ensure production shortfalls for both doctor and hygienist. If everything does not look great, remind patients about the areas of concern and document the findings. When confirmation letters are sent a few months later, the findings can be noted again in them, as well as mentioned by the Appointment Coordinator when confirmation calls are made to the patients.
With the dawn of a New Year just a few days away, there is no better time to ensure that you create your own positive change when the sun shines on 2009!
Next week, solve the #1 practice puzzle in ’09.
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