What do your patients really think? Many dentists believe they know the answer to that question, but few could back up their beliefs with hard numbers, data or verifiable research from an objective source.
In actuality, most dentists are blissfully unaware of the realities of the patient experience outside of the confines of the dentist’s direct care. Consequently, they routinely make incorrect assumptions about their patients. The truth is that what people will say to your face and what they actually think and do can be very different.
In fact, it’s very rare for patients to voice concerns directly to the dentist. Why? Because in most cases, patients and like you and respect you—unless they are very upset—few will ever call problems to your attention. They really don’t want to bother you with a negative report on how rude and unfriendly your front desk staff is. They don’t want to trouble you with information concerning the apparent lack of consideration your financial coordinator displays when it comes to making sensitive financial arrangements at the front of a waiting room full of curious listeners.
But they’re doing you no favors. Many of your existing patients will continue to give you the benefit of the doubt until you personally do something that becomes the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Like any other strained long-term relationship that ultimately fails, the impetus is seldom a major infraction. Rather, it is the culmination of many smaller and seemingly insignificant breaches that frustrate and wear down the doctor/patient relationship.
Quietly, patients leave and pledge never to return because on top of the fact that Front Desk Patty is a royal pain who simply must be endured on the way to the dentist or hygienist, you, Doctor, didn’t listen to the patients as they thought you should. Or you didn’t appear to be interested in fully answering their questions on the procedures you recommended. Or you kept them waiting just too long on this particular day. Whatever the reason(s), you will likely never know exactly why they walk away from your practice. They’ll just disappear, leaving you to absorb the ongoing financial fallout. I highly recommend surveying existing patients, but I wouldn’t stop there. You need to understand how patients, particularly new patients, view your practice.
Time and again, dentists call me asking what they can do to get more new patients. It never occurs to them that new patients do call and may come in for an initial visit, but never return for a number of reasons.
There are no computer reports in your practice software to tell you how many prospective patients are driven away at the first phone call. There are no bells or whistles that sound when a new patient silently pledges never to return because it’s impossible to get a parking place within six blocks of your practice. There’s no little mouse to clue you into the frustration the patient experiences when the signage is so poor that they need a trial of breadcrumbs to figure out how to get to your front door. You are oblivious to the stains on the waiting room chairs, the worn and tattered magazines that are four months old and the patient restrooms that are just, well, gross. It simply doesn’t cross your mind that there is a problem, until you are experiencing it in your personal pocketbook.
Doctor, it’s time to pull your head out of the operatory and examine your practice from the patient’s perspective. Better yet, uncover exactly what it is like to be a new patient in your practice. Find out exactly what makes a patient walk away in disgust or happily return to your practice.
Next week, learn what’s happening to new patients in your practice and what to do about it.
Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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How to Make Great Impressions:
Telephone Skill Training
No this is not about alginate, silicon or any other dental impression material. This is about the memorable or not-so-memorable impressions you make on the telephone to potential patients seeking an appointment in your practice. Great impressions are not limited to the clinical arena. To achieve excellence in patient care they are important to the dental business arena as well.
The telephone is the potential dental patient’s first point of contact to your dental practice. How that call is handled will determine whether you have a new patient or not. If you are like me, you’ve had the experience of calling a doctor’s office only to hear the phone ring, ring and ring. Other times, you’ve had someone pick up the receiver, only to hear, “Please hold.” And then there is the situation when you are transferred so many times that you have no idea to whom you are speaking, and so get caught repeating the story over again. Fortunately, great phone skills are like any other communication behavior. They can be learned, practiced and polished to perfection.
Telephone Skill Training is one of the newest products offered by McKenzie Management. It was designed to improve customer service and attract and keep more new patients. The training consists of three 30-minute training sessions presented interactively online and on the phone with a McKenzie Management instructor. The training provides protocols and powerful scripts to secure new patient appointments while teaching your business team phone finesse to impress. The training also includes
- 3 mystery patient calls with audio clips and detailed report follow-ups
- progress feedback report via email at the end of the training
- copy of training slide presentation after each session
- scripts for new patients, insurance and patient retention
- telephone call forms
The primary emphasis of receiving incoming calls is to make a connection to the patient and build rapport in just a few sentences by focusing on the caller, engaging in active listening, knowing the services and products the practice offers and being able to guide the patient to accept an appointment.
The mystery patient calls are placed at random to the offices to ensure that none of the team suspect what day or time the calls will come in. The report sent to the doctor afterward includes a write-up and audio clips of the phone calls. After listening to many of these audio clips, I have identified several reasons why patients may feel disenchanted about the service they are expecting in your practice. Some observations of how new patients are handled include:
- being placed on hold for more than a minute without being asked
- being placed on hold for more than a minute with no message or hold information---just dead silence
- not being told how long the patient could expect to wait on hold
- not receiving driving directions to the practice
- not being informed of availability of parking or restrictions to parking
- not being quoted a fee for the new patient visit or emergency visit
- being asked for insurance information before being asked for names
- having trouble understanding what is said because of poor grammar
- not being asked about the previous dentist or about the existence of dental records
- being told that appointments were not available and not being offered solutions
- receiving answers to patient questions in a monotonous, blunt fashion without warmth
- being asked to repeat information already provided
- not being offered a patient packet with information about the practice and health history forms to fill out (with instructions) to bring to the appointment
- not hearing, “We look forward to meeting you!” at the end of the call
- being told that an appointment would not be available for several weeks
- being told that, “We don’t do things like that in our office,” when inquiring about possible care at appointment
- not being told of the existence of a website where they could get information about the practice
Dentists often ask why they are not busier and have “holes” in their schedules. They often seek out external marketing programs to make the phone ring with potential new patients only to have those patients call elsewhere because the poor customer service drives them away. Studies show that when a new patient calls they are ready to “buy” and want to secure an appointment within two weeks. If a dentist wants to capture this patient, he/she must not create barriers to getting in to the office. To improve your customer service and get more new patients, sign up your team today for Telephone Skill Training.
For more information about McKenzie Management’s Advanced Training courses, email email@example.com, call 1-877-777-6151 or visit our website at www.mckenziemgmt.com.
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Should You Clean the NP On The First Visit?
Dr. Sandra Crisp—Case Study #429
Dr. Crisp contacted McKenzie Management asking how all the other dental offices handle the patient question, “Will I get my teeth cleaned on my first visit?”
Dr. Crisp’s Practice Facts:
- 5-year old general family practice
- State-of-the-art equipment and latest decor
- Several competing general dental offices within a 5-mile radius
- 1 hygienist working 3 days a week
- 15 New Comprehensive Exam Patients a month
- Office is only retaining 64% of new patients
- Needs 25+ new Comprehensive Patients a month for practice growth
- No tracking of incoming phone inquiries
Systems must be put into place to reduce the loss of Dr. Crisp’s patient base in order to grow the practice. With 60–85% of restorative treatment coming from the hygiene recall exams, the more exams that are performed means the more treatment is diagnosed!
“I need to make an appointment to get my teeth cleaned!”
After consulting with Dr. Crisp’s Schedule Coordinator, it was determined that most of the new non-emergency patients call and make the above statement. The next thing they ask is usually, “Are you taking new patients?” (It still is amazing that patients ask this question. What dental office that is running a business is NOT taking new patients?)
It was also discovered that in Dr. Crisp’s office, the office policy is that even if new patients want their teeth cleaned, they can’t get their teeth cleaned. They must visit the doctor first and then re-appoint for their professional cleaning, or maybe for scaling and root planing!
The Schedule Coordinator had no idea of exactly how many potential patients were calling and not scheduling because new patient telephone slips were not completed to determine the number of inquiries versus the number of patients scheduled versus the number of appointments kept.
It was possible to review the computerized appointment book and see the number of “new patient” appointments that were broken or canceled, because they were either left on the schedule or placed in the Unscheduled Folder. Dr. Crisp was losing 15 to 20 potential new patients per month who were not keeping their appointments or who were canceling and not rescheduling. Something wasn’t working!
Why do patients want their teeth cleaned?
- Feeling “fuzzy”—to remove plaque and stains
- Weddings, graduations or other big events
- Embarrassment from a “yellow” look
- Bad breath
- Bleeding and sore gums
- Use insurance benefits
There are obviously many reasons why a potential patient elects to pick up the phone and make that call. There are just as many reasons why they choose the office to make the call to. When you tell a caller that your “office policy” states that you don’t clean teeth on the first visit, are you giving them what they want? The answer is no.
Give the patient what they want!
Dentistry is about relationships and patients elect with whom they want to make relationships. Dr. Crisp was making it too difficult for patients to accept and KEEP their appointments with her because they weren’t really getting what they wanted. From the number of broken new patient appointments, it was obvious that Dr. Crisp’s approach was not working. The new potential patient would call around and find another dentist that would give them what they wanted—a cleaning.
Dr. Crisp has a beautiful office with friendly and well-informed team members to support her. Unfortunately, not enough people in her community have an opportunity to experience it because of the office policy. Patient retention is poor because there are no systems in place to retain the patients that she does have.
It was recommended that the following system be implemented for new patient appointments:
- See all new patients within 1 week for excellent customer service and to avoid “no shows.” If patients don’t have X-rays and their insurance won’t pay for another FMX, take them as a courtesy, because the doctor needs them for diagnosis.
- Schedule 30 to 60 minutes with the doctor/assistant for information-gathering and treatment recommendations. The time spent with the doctor for evaluation and treatment recommendations must be exclusive time with no other patients waiting. Complex treatment plan options will need to be rescheduled in order to have time for presentation by doctor or Treatment Coordinator.
Schedule next 60 minutes with the hygienist for assessment and possible professional cleaning, as well as sharing videos, study models and other educational tools with the patient.
Six months later, new patient numbers were up 50%. Patient retention increased to 85% and additional hygiene days were being considered. Barriers were lowered that made it difficult for patients to make appointments, such as requesting X-rays from their previous dentist. Patients don’t want to confront their other dentist for X-rays. They want to quickly disappear and hope that no one will notice!
Keep your door open to potential new patients and help them walk in. Then be sure that you have systems in place so they don’t disappear without YOU noticing!
If you would like more information on how McKenzie's Practice Enrichment Programs can help you IMPLEMENT proven strategies, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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