Dental Assistants - Seize Your Golden Opportunity
Take a moment and think of a situation in which you were under a great deal of stress, you needed help, you were in a bind and weren’t sure where to turn or how to deal. You sought help from a friend, trusted advisor, or professional, and the difficult situation was resolved. If those helping you did so with kindness and compassion, you probably look back on the experience with appreciation and gratefulness. If it was unpleasant, you likely have negative feelings about those involved. Perhaps you are resentful. Those charged with helping you instead made you feel badly about yourself, and you’ve likely shared the negative experience with several others. You may not even remember if they resolved your issue, but you do remember how they made you feel.
That is precisely the situation emergency patients are in when they come into the practice. They are in a difficult position. Most likely they are in pain. They are under stress. And they are probably feeling somewhat desperate. They need help, but they also need kindness and compassion.
For assistants looking for opportunities to increase their value to the practice, taking extra care with emergency patients can have a huge payoff. The goal is to convert 85% of emergency patients to comprehensive exam, but that doesn’t happen without a carefully crafted and well-executed plan that ensures this person who walks in under stress and in pain leaves feeling good about the doctor, the assistant, and their decision to choose your office.
Pay attention to emergency patient biases that can creep into the practice culture. Oftentimes, there is a stigma attached to the emergency. Although it may be unintentional, this patient is frequently viewed as an annoyance, an interruption to the day rather than an opportunity. And that message comes through loud and clear to the patient.
If you don’t already have one, create an emergency patient experience protocol. Obviously, this goes beyond triaging the patient to address the immediate oral health problem. This protocol also addresses how the patient is to be managed throughout the visit. Certainly, the priority is to get the person out of pain, but it is also a huge opportunity to provide a truly excellent patient experience that the patient will not only remember fondly, but will happily share with others. In addition, it’s the opportunity to educate the patient on what your practice can do for them so that they don’t find themselves in a similar situation in the future.
The objective is to ensure that the emergency patient feels that the employees are understanding and helpful - not punitive - even when staff are under pressure. Consider each person’s role in putting the patient at ease as well as gathering information that will be essential in understanding those issues that are future barriers to necessary treatment.
Assistants: Pay attention to cues the patient is giving. Does the patient appear anxious or fearful? Is the person concerned about the cost of the treatment or the pain or the time the procedure is going to require? Is the patient apologizing because it’s been such a long time since their last appointment? Has this person had a negative dental experience in the past? Does the patient appear angry or frustrated?
The assistant should be able to identify the most likely obstacles the dental team will encounter when encouraging this patient to pursue comprehensive care. Knowing the barriers enables you to break them down. Track the most common reasons why emergency patients delay dental care. From there, develop a patient communication strategy through the use of scripts and educational materials to overcome those barriers.
Additionally, make it a priority to follow-up. The assistant should contact the emergency patient as well as any other patients that have undergone more extensive treatments. This is a critical communication strategy that yields extremely positive responses from patients. Ideally, the doctor already does this, but for those dentists that either do not want to personally follow-up with patients or don’t have time, the dental assistants play a vital role in building longstanding and mutually beneficial relationships between the practice and the patients.
Understanding patient concerns and showing sincere kindness and compassion enables dental teams to convert far more emergency patients to comprehensive exams. Embrace the opportunity that emergency patients bring and watch them become your greatest and most loyal fans.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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