Pick Me! Pick Me! Are You a First Choice for the New Patient?
Remember the days when you were a child in school and the class lined up for a game of kickball or baseball? Virtually every kid in line sweated the process, hoping that s/he wouldn’t be picked last. None of us enjoys rejection.
If you think about it, every time a prospective new patient calls your office, you and your staff are in the line-up for consideration to be on their health care team. The patient is picking the “players,” and you can only hope that your practice will get a chance at bat. Maybe they will try out the practice to see if you’re a good match. Perhaps they will keep you on the “roster” for a while, at least until you and your team start missing key plays. Typically, those “key plays” are often the seemingly insignificant issues or common day-to-day challenges that many busy dental offices don’t give thought to addressing.
Strike One! No One Answers the Phone
Strike Two! What Office is This?I continue to be stunned at the number of dental offices that still answer the phone, “Doctor’s office.” The caller has absolutely no idea whose “doctor’s office” this is. They have to ask, “Is this Dr. Humphrey’s office?” It’s simply rude to make the caller ask the question. Not to mention this extra step is a time waster for both parties. The team should be trained to follow a script when answering the phone similar to the following: “Thank you for calling Dr. Humphrey’s office. This is Ellen, how may I help you?” The phone is the front door to the practice. Are you slamming yours shut?
Strike Three! Punitive Policies and Procedures
Clearly, this approach to new patients has nothing to do with being accommodating, welcoming, or conveying any sense of appreciation to the prospective patient for choosing this office. In situations like this, oftentimes the person handling these calls is very regimented, task oriented, and is not well suited to be the first point of contact in dental practices. If you cannot reassign this employee, sign them up for customer service and telephone training immediately.
After all, consider how you would respond if you were the new patient. Would you feel that this is the type of practice that values your business? No, and neither do the vast majority of prospective patients that have tried your office and left.
Next week, are your new patients “one visit wonders?”
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Increased Production = Preparation
Doctors, how many times has this conversation happened in your practice during your hygiene exam:
“Susie, Bobby is cavity-free and his teeth look good. What about his sealants?”
“Dr. Smith, I don’t really know. Let me take a look here in his clinical chart/patient record and see what I can find. It appears that he has not had any placed yet. What would you like to do?”
You respond with, “Susie, has anyone spoken with his mother or father to determine if we have the parent’s okay to place sealants?”
In the meantime, you wait or leave the treatment room where Bobby is and conduct another recall exam in another hygiene room.
The scene changes: Susie is at the front desk, asking Beth if she knows anything about sealants for Bobby. Beth quickly reviews the insurance benefits for Bobby and determines that they are covered with a $50 deductible, but she doesn’t know if Bobby’s mom, who came with him, will want to pay the deductible. She suggests that Susie ask Bobby’s mom what she would like to do.
Susie calls Bobby’s mom from the reception room. “Mrs. Brown, I noticed that Bobby would benefit from sealants on his 6-yr molars. It appears that your dental insurance will cover the fee, all but the $50 deductible. Would you like for us to place them today?”
Mrs. Brown responds with, “Susie, I would love for you to do that. Can I send you a check for the $50?”
Susie has no idea how the finances in the office are managed, so she now involves Carol, the Financial Coordinator, to determine how to handle Mrs. Brown’s question regarding the payment of the $50.
15 minutes later, Susie gets the approval from Bobby’s mom to place the sealants, and as a result of the time taken to obtain permission, not only does Susie not have the time to place the sealants now, she is running 10 minutes late for her next patient. What should the Patient Coordinator do?
Step 1 - As the Patient Coordinator is reviewing the Routing Slips for the hygiene patients that are coming in the next day, concentrate on the children.
Step 2 - Check for the following:
Step 3 - Review insurance eligibility for the above items and indicate on the routing slip.
Step 4 - When the parent checks in at the front desk with the child for the appointment, obtain permission (should the doctor determine that these procedures are needed) for the above items and discuss any financial concerns. Relay this information to the hygienist so the hygienist is informed, should the doctor ask.
It is much more efficient to be proactive opposed to reactive, as illustrated in the example above. This example relates to a hygiene patient, but can also apply to a patient scheduled for a restorative procedure(s) with the doctor. An example would be:
Debbie, the Schedule Coordinator, notices an opening in her doctor’s schedule for tomorrow morning. What should the Schedule Coordinator do?
Step 2 - If there is unscheduled treatment and the opening available will allow for the additional treatment, review the insurance ramifications.
Step 3 - Contact the patient and inform them that there was a change in the schedule, and to save the patient an additional visit, additional treatment could be provided and their additional investment would only be $XX.
Step 4 - If it is not convenient for this patient, contact the patient after the appointment, offer the information, and ask them to arrive earlier to complete the additional treatment.
This will help you to avoid the following discussion with your assistant:
“Janie, I see that Jack needs fillings on the lower side. I wonder if he would be interested in getting them done today?”
Janie responds with: “I don’t know, Dr. Brown. Would you like for me to ask him?”
Janie approaches Jack and informs him of more treatment that was presented and that Dr. Brown would like to perform the treatment today to save Jack a return visit.
“Janie that would be great! How much more would it cost?” Jack asks.
“I don’t know, Jack, but I will be happy to find out for you,” replies Janie.
And you know the rest of the story, as it is a replay from the previous conversation with the parent of Bobby.
Working together as a team, you and your assistants, hygienists and business coordinators should always be looking for the “Windows of Opportunity” to increase production and better serve your patients.
I Hear You Knocking, but You Can't Come In
A line from a popular song of many years ago reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who relayed to me her story of not being able to get an appointment with a local dentist. “I felt like I was trying to join an exclusive club, when what I wanted was to see the dentist for a filling and a cleaning. I was told I would have to have an examination first but could not get the cleaning or the filling for several weeks.”
The goal for scheduling new patients should be 98% of those that call wanting to see a dentist. The 2% would represent patients that wanted something the practice did not offer, such as late evening appointments or free dentistry. If you have scheduled that new patient within a week to two weeks of their call, you can expect them to show up 99% of the time - but if you put them out for three weeks or longer, chances are they will get in to see another dentist. Look at it this way, if you are ready to buy something you usually act on it. If you went to the store to buy a new camera and were told they couldn’t get one for three weeks, would you wait, or would you move on to the next store?
If your goal is to build your practice by attracting new patients with a great website, marketing services like direct mail, networking in the community, etc. then why set up roadblocks to patients who are seeking your services? A common roadblock is the doctor’s philosophy or a misunderstanding of the doctor’s philosophy.
Take Jane, a newly hired business coordinator for Dr. A. Dr. A has told Jane to tell new patients that there will be a new patient exam of an hour and a half where records will be taken and a comprehensive examination will be presented. An appointment with the hygienist will be a second appointment and her/his availability would be two to three weeks after the examination appointment. Dr. A is proud of his thorough examination and his goal is to build a relationship with the patient and an understanding of whole health.
Jane began to realize that about 50% of the patients that called scheduled appointments according to Dr. A’s philosophy, the other potential patients did not schedule and said that they needed care sooner or were current with their dentistry and just wanted to get in for a general examination and cleaning. Jane looked at the new patient count for the last year and it averaged 8 a month. Patient retention was declining and it appeared that more patients were leaving the practice than were being replaced. Even though Dr. A was a very good clinician and a caring person, limiting new patients to his philosophy was causing practice decline.
Jane decided to help the situation by categorizing new patients by their immediate needs. Her goal was lofty: schedule everyone that called and create a system to identify these different types of new patients. “We will not be sacrificing your philosophy; we will be providing more patients an opportunity to get to know us by getting them in the chair,” said Jane. The following were categories that helped Jane achieve her goal of getting everyone scheduled.
After six months of using the categories, the new patients seen at Dr. A’s office doubled, as did his opportunity to communicate his philosophy.
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