Your Email Questions
Many of you send me emails with your questions and comments, and I want to thank you for them. When reading about the issues so many of you are facing in your dental practices, I see that wherever we may be located or whatever our situations may be, there are common problems that keep cropping up. Let’s look at a few of them.
I am a hygienist in a busy general practice. We are scheduled so tightly that I feel that I am running in a marathon every day. I don’t feel that I have time to complete a thorough prophy, let alone talk to patients about their dental concerns. What can I do? I need more time!
Anyone who has been reading my past articles in this e-newsletter knows that I am a big proponent of providing long enough appointments for hygienists to complete their treatment as well as identify possible future patient needs. My opinion is that it’s “penny wise and pound foolish” to cut hygiene appointment times down too tightly. I addressed this in detail in my articles How Many Patients Should the Hygienist See?and The $8,000 Hygiene Day. When patients are rushed through the hygiene department, patient care may be compromised and treatment that patients need and that can provide income to the office may be left unrecognized and undone. Both the dentist and the hygienist can become focused on just getting through the day, which is not conducive to a productive practice.
It is my opinion that the hygiene appointment must be long enough to fully address today’s hygiene treatment and future treatment identification. Conversely, if the schedule in this practice continues in the way this writer has expressed, her problem may have another solution. When patients feel rushed and unappreciated, they leave the practice. This will result in the office having many fewer patients and therefore everyone’s schedule will be lighter! Problem solved.
I work at the front desk. When patients come to me after their treatment for the day, I am expected to collect what they owe. Many of the patients are surprised that they have to pay that day, and often don’t understand the amounts that are due. They get mad at me! What can I do?
Patients should be fully aware of what treatment they are having that day, and what payment amount is expected. It is unreasonable to expect a patient to accept care they don’t completely understand or are not willing to pay for - with or without the help of insurance. This is why a pre-treatment conference is essential. Treatment should be presented in a calm and easy-to-understand way, patients should have time to ask questions, and fees must be fully explained. No surprises!
The pre-treatment conference can be combined with a short restorative appointment if the staff is worried that patients will balk at coming to the office “just to talk.” Some dentists may worry that if all treatment and all costs are laid out up front, patients may be overwhelmed and decide against having care. However, which is worse - having a patient decide against proceeding with treatment right now, or having a patient receive treatment, get angry because they did not understand the fees involved, and subsequently refuse to pay? Those patients receive their restorations, but the office does not receive the income! A practice runs more smoothly when active communication with patients is a priority. Patients who get mad for any reason are extremely unlikely to return or to ever serve as a source of referrals.
I am a general dentist with a good practice. I have worked hard to make my office a place that patients want to come to, and where staff like coming to work. My problem is that when we have the occasional no-show, my staff treats it like an opportunity to stand around at the front desk visiting with one another. This drives me crazy! What can I do to make my staff realize that just because a patient has not come for their appointment, it is not an excuse for everyone to stop working?
Many dentists feel the same way you do about staff “down time.” The best way to address this is to give your team members guidance about what you want them to be doing if there is the occasional broken appointment. This can be talked about and put in writing during your next staff meeting. Each member of the team should have a check-list of sorts that is prioritized by what you would like them to focus on if a patient cancels. For example:
Mindy - Dental Assistant
Jenni - Dental Assistant
Natalie - Dental Hygienist
Every office will have a different set of priorities. The important thing is to establish what these priorities are and set up a designated protocol for dealing with down time.
Each of these three emails has one thing in common - the need for communication within the practice and with patients. Making communication an office priority can reduce problems of all types, and ultimately make the practice run more effectively.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office”. Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol is also a speaker on hygiene efficiency and profitability for McKenzie Management. Interested in having Carol speak to your dental society or study club? Click here
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