Make 2010 Your Year for Treatment Acceptance
It’s that time again, the first month of a new year. These are the days in which you clean off the desk, try to get organized, and pledge to change those things that you view are keeping you from achieving your best. Perhaps you want to improve patient payment systems this year, reduce inefficiencies in the treatment room by streamlining procedures in the coming months, or become more effective in your treatment planning and presentations. The truth is that it doesn’t take more than a few weeks into these newfound or “re-found” goals to remind you what you already know all too well: real change is extraordinarily difficult, particularly when you try to go it alone. For dentists who already feel stretched beyond their limits with the multitude of responsibilities that come with running a practice, many desperately want and need to improve key systems and although they may resolve to put forth real effort, they can quickly feel overwhelmed.
Take treatment acceptance for example - scores of dentists are eager to improve this area of their practices in 2010. Understandably, it can be agonizing for those eager to provide comprehensive dentistry to waste precious time presenting treatment plans that are relegated to the patient’s “maybe someday” list. And, over time, having patients routinely disregard or delay treatment recommendations can be demoralizing. Yet I hear dentists trying to convince themselves that if they just work harder this year, things will improve. But the fact is that working harder won’t necessarily fix a broken or ineffective system. It oftentimes only prolongs the suffering and enables the dentist to shovel more of the burden on his/her own shoulders, rather than fix the inadequacies in the business model and sharing accountability for treatment acceptance with the broader team.
Moreover, too many dentists still hold on to the myth that if they mention the need for treatment a time or two to the patient, they have done what they can to convince the individual of the need. In reality, it can take as many as 12 conversations before the patient will move forward with care. But ongoing communication with the patient is only part of the equation. As many dental teams eventually come to realize, there are a multitude of factors that play a role in securing treatment acceptance. And, in some cases, one of the biggest is the doctor. The fact is that the doctor is not always the right person for the job. Certainly it’s not easy for the doctor to look himself in the mirror and acknowledge that while he may be an excellent clinician and superior at treatment planning, presenting the package to the patient is something better off delegated to a well-trained staff member.
Understandably, dentists who are truly passionate about their work – and I’ve met very few who aren’t – can find the prospect of turning over treatment presentation to a staff member extraordinarily challenging. But unless you, doctor, are securing an 85% treatment acceptance rate or better, it’s time to consider a change in your strategy.
In reality, patients are often much more comfortable discussing their treatment plans with an auxiliary than with the dentist. It is quite common for patients to feel uncomfortable asking detailed questions of the dentist. Some are concerned that they may unintentionally imply that they do not trust the doctor’s recommendation. Others are worried that they are taking up too much of the doctor’s valuable time. Still others find that if they do ask questions, the answers are too clinically detailed to truly understand. In addition, patients often feel awkward discussing fees with dentists. Many patients see dentists as being in a very high-income bracket, and they perceive that the dentist may not understand their financial limitations. Conversely, dentists who get into the habit of discussing fees and financial arrangements with patients can feel unnecessarily pressured to make concessions or provide credit options that are well beyond what is reasonable for a small business to offer.
What’s more, dentists typically don’t see any problem with presenting treatment plans in the operatory. However, patients feel they are at the mercy of the doctor in this space; it is not conducive to a relaxed, detailed discussion. More comprehensive treatment plans should be delivered in a separate area of the office, designated as a “no interruption zone,” where specifics can be spelled out and patients are encouraged to ask questions.
Next week, find out how to make the most of a treatment coordinator in your practice.
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