Follow-Up and Watch Patients Follow-Through
For the record, let me say that I too read and watch the news. Like you, I am well aware that the nation’s economy is recovering - albeit at a slow - okay, very slow - crawl. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the rest of you can run your small businesses at the same snail’s pace. Rather, it’s time to adapt and start running.
Certainly, it’s likely you’ve noticed a few changes in your practice in the last couple of years. For many, scheduling challenges are different today than they were, and keeping the schedule full is requiring persistence as well as a fair amount of creativity. You also may have noticed that patients want much more information about your recommendations today than a few years ago. Many more want to discuss your recommended treatment plan two or even three times before they proceed. More and more patients are conferring with their significant others before proceeding. While this has been a factor for many years, it’s much more prevalent today. And finally, they are pursuing recommended treatment, but they are doing so in phases.
Let’s consider one of the key changes that we’ve seen over the past few years: The patient’s need/desire for education has increased significantly. It can be the greatest obstacle to treatment acceptance. If you and your team are not regularly impressing upon your patients the importance of pursuing the care you’ve recommended and educating them about the procedure and why it is necessary, they will not see the value in receiving that care. Patients are looking for value. It’s as simple as that.
Use common sense, well-written practiced scripts, and make sure everyone is on the same page. For example, if a patient is told at his recall appointment that he has a cracked tooth and will need a crown, pay attention to how the patient reacts. Also pay attention to what specific information the patient is given. Is the diagnosis explained to the patient fully and completely, along with a full explanation as to why the patient needs the crown and the consequences of delaying treatment? Or is the patient told something a bit more vague, perhaps along these lines: “Bob, it looks like there’s a little problem with an upper right molar here. You probably want to get that taken care of before too long.”
There is no sense of urgency in the statement above. Therefore, if dutiful staff follow-up with this patient, Bob may be annoyed and feel that the staff are being pushy because the clear impression Bob got from the dentist was that this tooth presented a minor problem, not an urgent one. Bob wasn’t educated. On the other hand, if Bob was told specifically that he needed a crown and if the potential problems that are likely to arise if he delays care were explained, the next step is to evaluate his reaction to the recommendation. Did he say, “It’s not a good time right now, is there something else we can do?” Did he say, “I really can’t move forward on any treatment right now.” Or did he say nothing when the doctor told him, but nodded his head in agreement? The specific information provided to Bob and his reactions are critical in gauging the best approach to follow-up with this patient.
If the exchange is fully documented, the business employee reads the notes and realizes that Bob is going through a difficult time, is not going to schedule an appointment, and therefore a phone call is probably not going to be the best approach. Instead she might opt for a reassuring letter to the patient to tell him that the doctor understands this is not a good time for the patient to proceed with recommended treatment, but when Bob is ready, the practice looks forward to scheduling the appointment.
Conversely, if the patient nodded in agreement but hasn’t scheduled the appointment, the practice has an obligation to follow-up with him. Convey compassion and concern as well as the significant importance of scheduling the treatment. Always emphasize the benefit to the patient as well as the value to the patient.
Regardless of the economy, doctors still have a professional obligation as health care providers to diagnose and recommend ideal treatment to patients. And staff shouldn’t be afraid to follow-up with patients using a well-prepared and systematic approach. It is in the patient’s best interest to receive care promptly.
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