Turn the Emergency Patient into Your Biggest Fan
When the Holiday Season is upon us, people tend to be a little stressed. They put things off and focus on more pressing matters like buying and wrapping gifts and enjoying festive Holiday celebrations. All is well until the dental emergency strikes. They don’t have time for a toothache this time of year! Unfortunately, many dental teams feel the same and unwittingly send mixed messages to the patient. Yet emergencies can be a huge practice builder, and given the circumstances, the patient is often more than willing to seriously consider a more comprehensive approach to their dental needs.
The process begins by ensuring that the patient feels welcome and at ease in the practice. Welcome them and greet them with a smile. Assure them that the clinical team is excellent and they will take very good care of them. Let them know about how long their wait will be. Ask them if they would like assistance completing their paperwork. If the patient is in considerable discomfort, take them into a consultation room or other quiet area where a staff member can help them fill out practice medical forms and other documents. The focus should be on making the process as easy and comfortable as possible for the patient.
Pay attention to cues the patient is giving. Does the patient appear anxious or fearful? Are they concerned about the cost of the treatment, the pain, or the time the procedure is going to require? Are they apologizing because it’s been such a long time since they’ve been in for an appointment? Have they had a negative dental experience in the past? Are they angry or frustrated?
In 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 common reasons why emergency patients wait until there is a problem before coming into the practice. Understanding the why behind patient reticence is essential to addressing it. 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 the 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 is concerned because they don’t understand why they need a specific procedure, 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. Staff are not in a situation in which they have to think on their feet, because they have anticipated the barrier and have a plan to address it. What’s more, patients appreciate the effort to address their concerns and help them understand. The dental team isn’t just trying to get them out of the chair as quickly as possible so that they can return to their regular schedule.
After the treatment, escort the patient to the front desk, and impress upon them 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 as soon as possible, not in six weeks or six months, but preferably within the next week.
That evening or the next, the doctor follows up with a phone call to check on the patient and express the doctor and staff’s appreciation for the opportunity to take care of them. A few days later the patient should receive a package in the mail with printed information about your practice and your services. Attached to that is a handwritten note from the doctor’s assistant that speaks specifically to the patient’s experience, expresses concern for their well-being, and indicates that the staff is looking forward to seeing the patient again for their comprehensive exam on the designated date. Encourage the patient to learn more about the office and the team by visiting the practice website, and urge them to call with any questions.
Want more of me? Click here to visit my blog, The Lighter Side, for more Dental Practice Management info.
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