Make 2010 Your Year for Treatment Acceptance
It’s that time again, the first month of a new year. These are the days in which you clean off the desk, try to get organized, and pledge to change those things that you view are keeping you from achieving your best. Perhaps you want to improve patient payment systems this year, reduce inefficiencies in the treatment room by streamlining procedures in the coming months, or become more effective in your treatment planning and presentations. The truth is that it doesn’t take more than a few weeks into these newfound or “re-found” goals to remind you what you already know all too well: real change is extraordinarily difficult, particularly when you try to go it alone. For dentists who already feel stretched beyond their limits with the multitude of responsibilities that come with running a practice, many desperately want and need to improve key systems and although they may resolve to put forth real effort, they can quickly feel overwhelmed.
Take treatment acceptance for example - scores of dentists are eager to improve this area of their practices in 2010. Understandably, it can be agonizing for those eager to provide comprehensive dentistry to waste precious time presenting treatment plans that are relegated to the patient’s “maybe someday” list. And, over time, having patients routinely disregard or delay treatment recommendations can be demoralizing. Yet I hear dentists trying to convince themselves that if they just work harder this year, things will improve. But the fact is that working harder won’t necessarily fix a broken or ineffective system. It oftentimes only prolongs the suffering and enables the dentist to shovel more of the burden on his/her own shoulders, rather than fix the inadequacies in the business model and sharing accountability for treatment acceptance with the broader team.
Moreover, too many dentists still hold on to the myth that if they mention the need for treatment a time or two to the patient, they have done what they can to convince the individual of the need. In reality, it can take as many as 12 conversations before the patient will move forward with care. But ongoing communication with the patient is only part of the equation. As many dental teams eventually come to realize, there are a multitude of factors that play a role in securing treatment acceptance. And, in some cases, one of the biggest is the doctor. The fact is that the doctor is not always the right person for the job. Certainly it’s not easy for the doctor to look himself in the mirror and acknowledge that while he may be an excellent clinician and superior at treatment planning, presenting the package to the patient is something better off delegated to a well-trained staff member.
Understandably, dentists who are truly passionate about their work – and I’ve met very few who aren’t – can find the prospect of turning over treatment presentation to a staff member extraordinarily challenging. But unless you, doctor, are securing an 85% treatment acceptance rate or better, it’s time to consider a change in your strategy.
In reality, patients are often much more comfortable discussing their treatment plans with an auxiliary than with the dentist. It is quite common for patients to feel uncomfortable asking detailed questions of the dentist. Some are concerned that they may unintentionally imply that they do not trust the doctor’s recommendation. Others are worried that they are taking up too much of the doctor’s valuable time. Still others find that if they do ask questions, the answers are too clinically detailed to truly understand. In addition, patients often feel awkward discussing fees with dentists. Many patients see dentists as being in a very high-income bracket, and they perceive that the dentist may not understand their financial limitations. Conversely, dentists who get into the habit of discussing fees and financial arrangements with patients can feel unnecessarily pressured to make concessions or provide credit options that are well beyond what is reasonable for a small business to offer.
What’s more, dentists typically don’t see any problem with presenting treatment plans in the operatory. However, patients feel they are at the mercy of the doctor in this space; it is not conducive to a relaxed, detailed discussion. More comprehensive treatment plans should be delivered in a separate area of the office, designated as a “no interruption zone,” where specifics can be spelled out and patients are encouraged to ask questions.
Next week, find out how to make the most of a treatment coordinator in your practice.
Hear Sally’s FREE Podcast at The Dentist’s Network - HERE
The ROI of Dentistry
Let’s start with the obvious: we’re in the midst of the so-called “Great Recession,” and there can’t be a single reader here who isn’t experiencing it one way or another. It’s changing the way people think about money and about themselves, so inevitably, it’s changing your dental practice.
Even the spendthrifts among us have sobered up. People are spending less and looking for a better return than the instant gratification that marked the boom years. That’s a key word: return. An afternoon’s fun, a bauble that ends up in a drawer, a big night out with a $500 tab… they just don’t have the appeal they had when the Dow was up-up-up and unemployment was down-down-down. When the Dow and the unemployment index switched places, people wanted a better return for their money. Hence the acronym ROI: Return On Investment. What we’re getting back for the dollar is ROI. That’s always been the case, but things have changed. In the good times, only a few of us watched the ROI. Now, we’re all paying attention. Casual spending is dead, for the time being - every dollar spent is an investment, and we all want to understand the return we’re getting back.
It’s hard to imagine a better investment than good dentistry. Even a routine cleaning in your chair can be an excellent investment both in what we get back and moreover, in what we avoid getting. We get a clean, fresh-feeling mouth; immediate improvements in local oral hygiene; some good advice and feedback about our health status; and tips on improvements we can make right away. That much we understand. But what’s missing all too often is the context in which we’re making this investment - what it means, what’s prevented, what we’re getting back in the long term, and the real return good dentistry represents for us.
The ROI in Context
Common sense would suggest that people would spend one dollar now that would prevent them spending ten tomorrow - that’s a terrific ROI - but common sense in a recession isn’t common. When the going gets tough, people hunker down and wait for the good times to come back. They deny themselves not only the fun and the frills, but also some smart investments they ought to be making. That’s why many dentists now are seeing patients come in only as a last resort. After months of denial and procrastination, hurting patients show up with a problem that requires multiple visits and financial sacrifice. The worse they let it get, the more it impacts their whole lives. The Washington Post recently quoted a noted economist who sees a new mindset among American consumers taking hold: “We're going to see a profound change in the behavior of consumers, where they will be relying less on debt and on the liquidation of their savings to finance consumption," he told the paper. "People will be more disciplined." The expert’s prediction was confirmed by at least one average spender, a DC-area attorney who has a safe job and a good income, but whose family nevertheless has embraced common-sense spending habits. “My goal is to make sure we have cash for everything, have a really solid amount of savings and get rid of as much consumer debt as we can," he said. "If we don't need it, we just don't need it; if we have to mend something, we have to mend something."
An Essential Investment
On behalf of McKenzie Management, David Clow consults with dental professionals on practice culture, case acceptance, and patient expectations.
David Clow is a writer/consultant for Fortune 100 companies. His book, A Few Words from the Chair, is the first book written by a patient for dental professionals and students and is available here.
Hear David Clow’s FREE podcast – HERE
For Blockbuster Success, Bring Storytelling in Your Practice
CAUTION: If you haven’t seen the movie Avatar yet, this article may spoil it for you. There was a lot of hype before Avatar was released. I tend to be a skeptic about marketing efforts. The reviews were mediocre and I’m not a big science-fiction fan either. Yet hearing it was the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time (at the time this article was written) and having earned more than $1 billion in less than three weeks of its release, I decided to see what the fuss was all about. It was then I understood why this movie is making an impact at the box office and all over the internet.
Indeed the film has incredible special effects and its technology will change the way movies are made. Certainly that is a factor. Still, critics devalued it claiming it was predictable. It was the same old story. Trite and clichéd. A broken soldier who finds companionship then meaning in the company of his enemy. A more advanced culture comes into conflict with a lesser, supposedly weaker society. One of the aggressors disguises himself to learn about the other side, yet in trying to understand them he falls in love and aids them in their conflict. They said it was another Dances with Wolves, Enemy Mine or a remake of Pocahontas.
What the critics don’t understand is that the very best stories - and James Cameron is the master of storytelling - are stories we all know. And the critics misunderstand something fundamental about storytelling. The very reason why certain stories have been told over and over for thousands of years is that they work! They resonate with us, down to an unconscious level. Everyone has traditional oral stories that should be handed down. When you tell a story, it’s a great way of carrying on traditions and bonding. It can also be a good way of opening up conversation. In short, there really are no new stories, just creative alterations of the originals.
Keep in mind that Google was not the first search engine. eBay did not invent internet auctions, nor was Microsoft the first operating system. The first gaming console was not Nintendo. But these companies were the first to perfect their version of the story. Storytelling can inspire people to act in unfamiliar, and often unwelcome, ways. Marketing research shows that we tend to buy products and services because of the stories associated with them. A lot of times being the newbie startup has HUGE advantages because you can do things that others can’t. Gmail started with 1GB accounts while Yahoo and Hotmail had 15mb limits.
Don’t mistake the simple for the inferior. The best stories are often the ones we know by heart. Timeless tales you’ve heard before and will hear again. They come from myth. Just like “coming of age” or “the hero’s journey” or any of the other fundamental structures hardwired into our primate brains. The story of Avatar has been told since we lived in caves. The details change, but the story is eternal.
Stories take hold of us. They remain with us and we never grow weary of the experience. Storytelling is fundamental to the human search for meaning. Stories have been used throughout history in many different ways for development of character and virtues. Leadership is about storytelling. This includes motivating others to action. Enabling others to put their trust in you. Branding your practice. Transmitting your values. Getting others to work together collaboratively. Sharing knowledge. Taming the grapevine. Creating and sharing your vision. Transforming your business.
Whether you are building a new practice or trying to expand an existing one, share stories with your staff and your patients. Be sure to include details that bring your stories into the listener’s frame of reference and help them imagine themselves in the story. A good story doesn’t just create a connection between you, your employees and your patients. It’s also something they’re likely to share with others.
Examine your practice. What’s special about your office or how you treat patients or how you do business? Turn those into engaging stories that will stick in people’s minds. Look around and you will see stories in action everywhere you go. Take these stories for inspiration and draw from their knowledge. When you find ways to incorporate storytelling into your practice you’ll benefit from the results.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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