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1.20.06 Issue #202  
Is Your Practice Growth Tipping Over the Front Line?

Sally McKenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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Here’s the common scenario: It’s the usual busy day in the dental practice. The phone is ringing. Patients are flowing in and things are moving along smoothly. Sure there’s a cancellation or two, maybe an emergency, etc. As the doctor passes the front desk, she hears Linda, the Business Assistant, wrapping up a conversation. No, I’m sorry, we don’t.” We don’t what? What don’t we do that someone wants to know about? The doctor makes a mental note to follow-up with Linda. She’s overheard her give similar replies in the past, and meant to ask her about it before. This time she will.

Here’s what the doctor didn’t hear:
Linda: “Good morning, Dr. Stanton’s office, Linda speaking.”
Caller: Hello Linda, my name is Carolyn S. I was just calling to find out if the doctor is accepting new patients.
Linda: Yes, she is, although the schedule is pretty full right now. Without even realizing it, Linda is sending a message to this prospective patient that she might not be welcome in the practice. It’s already a busy place and Linda doesn’t know how the office is keeping up with the patients it has, let alone encouraging any new patients to join. That comes through loud and clear to the caller.
Caller: Do you offer any Friday evening appointments?
Linda: No, I’m sorry, we don’t.
(silence) The caller waits for another option from Linda, but none is offered.
Caller: Ok, thank you. Click.

To Linda, this is just a routine inquiry – nothing special, and she doesn’t think much about it. After all, there’s no established protocol. She’s just answering questions as they come in.
No, the practice doesn’t offer Friday night appointments, but perhaps the practice offers Wednesday evening appointments or Saturday morning appointments. Or perhaps the practice sees new patients at a specific time of day, so that the doctor can spend quality time with the patient and is less likely to be interrupted with emergencies or oral hygiene exams. But Linda makes no effort to offer possible alternatives or to educate the patient on the options and why they would be worth considering. She simply answers the questions the prospective patient asks and feels she’s done her job.

How many new patients are lost every month because your business employees are handling new patient calls as routine inquiries rather than potential sales opportunities? If ever there were a perfect occasion to sell the practice and the services offered, it’s when the prospective new patient calls your office. They are interested, ready, and willing to learn more.

However, dental teams routinely underestimate the value of phone inquiries from potential new patients and doctors are paying mightily for it. The prospective patient wants to schedule an appointment but is told they’ll have to wait three, four, six weeks/months to get in. Forget it. You’ve lost them. The prospective patient calls and they want to learn more about your practice from your website but you don’t have one. It’s likely you won’t have that particular patient either. More and more patients want to learn about you via the Internet before they commit to a relationship with your practice. Today, word of “mouse” is as important as word of mouth.

The prospective patient calls and asks for information on a specific procedure, such as implants or veneers, as well as information on the office in general. The Business Assistant plans to fulfill the request later on when she’s not so busy, but that not-so-busy time never arrives. The potential patient moves on to another practice.

The doctor, meanwhile, is none the wiser but all the poorer.

Next week, keep practice growth from tripping over your frontline.

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Top Ten Team-Work Tips for the New Year

Belle M. DuCharme
RDA, CDPMA. Director
The Center for
Dental Career Development

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A new year with a clean slate is open to you with many possibilities for change. I have gathered some pearls of wisdom to help you focus on positive changes for your practice in 2006.

    1. Is the entrance to your practice and the reception room scaring patients away? The very first thing your patient sees is your door and entryway. Does the door have peeling paint, dirt or old member of ADA stickers hanging loosely? Is your welcome mat looking ragged and “unwelcome?” Is the upholstery on the chairs stained or faded? How about the paint. Is it outdated and scuffed up? Time for an update or a clean up! Get the team involved in ideas for change.
  1. The appearance of your team. Important to patients of all demographics is the well-groomed look of the professional team. If you are promoting aesthetics or just good sterilization techniques, your team’s uniforms, badges, shoes, hair and nails reflect the care the patients will receive. Get out the catalogs and get your fashion ideas together.
  2. What are you doing to educate your patients? Do you have Messages On Hold so that while your patient is on hold they can listen to information about the newest services that you have to offer to improve their oral health? Do you have video education products to play for patients while they are waiting for treatment? Do you take the time to teach or do you just “tell”? Patients look to the dental team as “teachers” so let’s not disappoint them!
  3. Explaining fees and payment options prior to treatment. A patient may be very satisfied with your practice, but if there is a serious misunderstanding on fees or insurance it may be reason enough for them to seek another office for their dental care. Have a written payment option sheet prepared for each patient and have an estimated insurance reimbursement included if applicable. Have the necessary paperwork for CareCredit available to offer the patient a solution to financing dental care. Show genuine concern for the value and long-term benefits of good dental care and be prepared to demonstrate it with testimonials, photos and digital information.
  4. Be in “the moment” with your patients and show them that you appreciate them. When any member of the team is with the patient it is important to be with the patient. Listen to and focus on that patient for the short time you are with the patient to communicate that you really care.
  5. Offer treatment options or alternatives that are realistic and explain the risks and benefits so that patients can make informed decisions. Explain what will happen during and after treatment. This will help the patient reduce anxiety.
  6. Are you really available for an “emergency”? Patients need to know that they can receive emergency care when they need it. Don’t turn off your pager or cell-phone unless you have another dentist taking your calls.
  7. Are you always running behind schedule? Patients consider 15 minutes past their time slot as the longest acceptable wait period. Inform patient of approximate wait time immediately.
  8. When a patient calls to schedule can they get an appointment with you? Patients say that the best office has hours that can accommodate a range of patient needs. Having some early morning or late afternoon hours can increase the likelihood of patients remaining in your practice and referring more patients with the same needs.
  9.  Are your patient’s people or “cases”? Patients feel more at ease in practices that are personable and the dentist and team seem relaxed, confident and friendly. So “loosen up” and SMILE!

Want to take your practice to higher levels of productivity, team morale and professionalism? Join me for one-on-one Advanced Business Training for your team and make this a great new year.

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Yes, It Is the Patient's Plan

Tom Limoli, Jr.

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Yes, it is the patient’s plan. If we are going to file for benefits on behalf of the patient, however, it is our responsibility to do the best that we can. All too often, lack of knowledge on the part of the dental office results in unsecured benefits and unfulfilled expectations on the part of both the patient and the dental office. If we are going to provide the additional service to our patients of filing for their insurance benefits, we had best know how to properly handle the process.

What happens when we inform the patient that his or her benefit plan will participate in the reimbursement of dental care? The patient has a reasonable expectation that individual financial participation will be at a certain dollar amount. If the plan does not reimburse as expected, are we now looking for an additional and/or possibly inappropriate coding strategy? I surely hope not.

Like any goal that must be written down, the patient must understand and acknowledge their total financial responsibility. The patient has a plan of benefits through their employer, and that benefit plan belongs to the patient and no one else. Make them accept ownership of their plan. Do not apologize for any inadequacies of the patient’s specific benefit plan, and under no condition should you criticize their employer for plan selection. This causes unnecessary negative feelings.

Have written financial objectives established and agreed upon prior to the initiation of treatment. They will always eliminate confusion and miscommunication.

As for benefit plan specifics… If you do not have plan specifics in print from the employer or payer from their web site, do not waste your time and accept assignment of benefit anticipating a wait for payment.  Simply make other financial arrangements — PERIOD. Yes, this is a bold step that may lead some patients to leave your practice and/or go elsewhere for treatment, but in the long run your financial success and prosperity will be much more predictable and consistent.

As for calling the employer and/or administrator for benefit plan specifics; this too is a waste of valuable office resources. This time is always better spent coordinating treatment and getting the patient to acknowledge their need for care. We have helped many offices convert patients from insurance dependency.

If your office has been filing claims in the absence of written and /or printed benefit plan specifics, you and your patient have undoubtedly been caught in the web of modified prosthetic replacement clauses. Remember the old days when single- and multi-surface restorations were routinely benefited every 24 months? How about when full coverage crowns were benefited every five years? Well, our patients and we can kiss those days goodbye.

Arriving on the scene are those traditional, non-managed-care plans that simply provide no benefit for full -overage crowns. It matters not if the patient has an existing appliance that is 15 years old. The routine replacement of crowns and fixed/removable partial dentures is not automatically approved for benefit. Prosthetic replacements are more and more becoming a patient out-of-pocket expense. In short, beware the plan that does not cover crowns.

It is not uncommon for an employer to modify an existing traditional benefit plan to meet labor-management financial objectives. One of the most popular plan modifications is to provide benefits only to crowns in the posterior sextants of the mouth.

How common is it to hear, “If my insurance doesn’t cover it, I must not need it.” or “If my insurance doesn’t pay, you obviously did something wrong.”

This year, begin to teach and allow your patients to say, “If my benefit plan doesn’t cover the total charge, I understand it to be my responsibility. I am glad to see your office still accepts cash.”

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