Do This Before Summer’s End And Reap the Rewards
Hard to believe that summer is almost over. While we may wish we could hold onto the lazy summer days just a bit longer, I like this time of year because for many, it brings a sense of new beginnings. Staff are returning fresh from vacations. Students are preparing to go back into the classroom or head off to college. And for dental teams, this is an excellent time to look at where you are on your 2010 goals.
December may seem far off into the distant future, but I assure you, the end of the year is right around the corner, and the only color I want you to see when the holidays roll around and you close out 2010 is green. That makes August an ideal time to regroup, refocus, and redouble your efforts in those areas that have the greatest impact on your practice success. Starting with patient communication, namely, scripts.
Successful practices script every patient interaction. I know that you and your team think that you are brilliant communicators. Truth is, many of you are very good, many more are average, and a fair number are poor. I can assure you this, if you develop scripts that emphasize the benefit to the patient in virtually every interaction, you and your team will become better and more effective communicators. More importantly, you will see the return in your bottom-line.
Scripts ensure that nothing is left to chance and everyone is communicating in a positive and effective manner. For example, when new patients call the practice, a script guarantees that whoever picks up the phone is prepared to make the caller feel welcome and effectively convey the value in creating a relationship with this dental practice. When it comes to collections, a script enables the practice to help patients feel confident in pursuing treatment because they fully understand that effective payment plans, such as CareCredit, are available. Additionally, scripts help to ensure that the schedule has fewer gaping holes because team members understand how to consistently reinforce the value of each visit with the patient. And the patient fully understands the importance of keeping appointments, as they benefit their overall health.
The best scripts use words, phrases, and questions that emphasize the benefits to the patient - not the requirements of the doctor or practice. Those who are able to use scripts most effectively understand the message they need to convey. They know the information and material thoroughly and are able to adapt the scripts so they come across naturally. What’s more, those teams that use scripts to their full advantage practice, practice, practice and regularly engage in role playing.
Role playing is essential in helping staff improve communication skills significantly. And the key to successful role playing is that everyone knows that mistakes are both welcome and encouraged - they are not expected to be a pro from the first word. Remember, the goal with role playing isn’t performing - it’s thinking about what should be communicated, determining how to best phrase questions and identifying the most appropriate sequence for statements and questions. For example, role playing helps a team to determine where in a script to place questions involving insurance or statements regarding the financial policy so as not to send unintended negative messages to patients.
Make it fun, make it a regular part of your staff meetings, and I guarantee that every person on your team will become far more skilled in effectively communicating with patients. And that translates into practice success!
Seal up the cracks in your own economy with thorough patient follow-through. Current and prospective patients who request information should be sent the material the day the request is made. Consider including additional information about the practice, such as the doctor’s commitment to providing the best possible care for patients. Emphasize specific qualities about the practice that set it apart from others, such as dentistry for the entire family, painless dentistry techniques, cosmetic services offered, 3-D cone beam, lasers, a commitment to never make the patient wait more than 5-10 minutes, etc. Ensure that the materials convey a positive feeling about the doctor, the practice, the team. Avoid negative language in your materials, such as cannot, don’t, won’t, and lists of punitive policies and requirements.
Next week, follow-up and watch patients follow-through.
Morning Meetings - Priceless
Many offices have a morning meeting every day. They go over the schedule, somebody reads the numbers they were told to get for the meeting, then everybody breaks and goes on about their day. Does this sound familiar - just going through the motions and not really looking at the schedule to prevent problems? This is the one time in the day the entire team is together and able to look at each patient, time scheduled, treatment needs, and special considerations such as money problems, physically or mentally handicapped patients, or past patient history - whether it is with your office, or information the front office has found out from the previous dentist.
The morning meeting can be the best thing that has ever happened to your office. Everybody should come to this meeting prepared to talk not only about the day you are about to start, but the day that you had yesterday. Why yesterday? Two reasons: To learn from your mistakes, and to go over what went right.
Going over what went wrong will help prevent the same mistakes from being made. This is not to point fingers at anybody or any one department, but to look at how it may have been handled better. This could be anything from the hygienist running late, which put her behind the rest of the day, to the doctor not having been scheduled enough time for a particular procedure. The hygienist could have asked the assistant to take the x-rays on the next hygiene patient. This way the patient would have never known that the hygienist was running late and the hygienist would have ran on time the rest of the day, instead of upsetting patients. There are patients that may decide to leave the practice if they always have to wait for their appointment.
When it comes to the doctor not having enough time for a specific procedure, this may have been a lack of communication at the time of scheduling between the front office and the back office. That is not what really matters at this time. The thing that matters is how to handle it if it should ever happen again. This is an instance where if the assistant gets the hygienist’s x-rays, then the hygienist can get the next patient numb for the doctor, and this may give the doctor the relief needed to make sure he/she stays on time the rest of the day. This is definitely an example of teamwork at its finest.
By going over what went right, the practice will continue to do what works. Depending on the size of your practice, there may have been some fantastic teamwork happening and some of the staff may not be aware of what happened or what was done when things ran smoothly. You want everybody doing the same thing when it works. It is a good idea to go over what went right after you go over what went wrong, in order to start the day off on a positive note.
When it comes to going over information for the current day, everybody should have a list of specific information prepared to review at the meeting. The hygienist should go over the charts the night before or come in early to be prepared for the morning meeting if another staff member is not willing to go through her/his charts. Here are a few things the hygienist should go over, based on office protocol and input from the doctor:
The assistants should go through the doctor’s charts the night before, and in addition to the above information they should look for who is overdue for hygiene or will be due soon and should get them scheduled while they are in the office. The front office will look at all the above while scheduling the appointment and will also mention anything that was discussed during the phone conversation. Of course this would also be noted in the computer.
The doctor needs to believe in the importance of the morning meeting, keep everybody on task, and be the great leader that the staff is looking for to start their day off. This is your time to talk openly about patients with your staff in order to provide the best quality care possible during the patient’s entire time with your office, which actually starts before they even walk in the front door.
If a staff member is unable to attend, they should leave any notes and information they wanted to share with other members on their behalf. There should be a person appointed to take notes for the person that is not there so they know what was shared. Being prepared for the morning meeting and actively participating makes it a win-win situation for everybody in the practice.
Interested in improving your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask us about our 1 day, In-Office Hygiene Performance Program.
Where There’s Smoke There’s Usually Fire
In my leadership coaching work with dentists, the conversations always turn to employee issues. This doesn’t surprise me because being a good leader includes managing the people who work for you. What does surprise me is how often dental leaders have personnel problems that could have been averted if they had been dealt with promptly. All too often crises happen because warning signs are ignored, overlooked or minimized. That sends a message that unacceptable behavior is acceptable.
Poor performance needs to be confronted head-on. Situations that are “mole hills” grow into “mountains” when you don’t address them quickly. Here are some common indicators that trouble may be on the horizon. If you nip small disruptions in the bud you will keep your team on track and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches.
Lack of Follow Through
Personal Problems That Interfere With Work
Sloppy or Poor Quality Work
Conflicts Between Co-Workers
Lack of Support for Practice Goals
Shows Little or No Initiative
One of the best strategies for effective people-management is to address troublesome issues early. It is much easier to correct a problem when it is small in scope. By extinguishing sparks before they become raging fires you will save yourself the aggravation of having to deal with an inferno later.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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