Overcome Your #1 Fear
As children, we were encouraged to face our fears. Don't be afraid of the dark. Don't be a chicken. Carnival rides aren't scary. But we quickly learn that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it's a powerful instinct that can protect us in potentially risky situations. It can be the little voice that warns us not to walk down the dark street alone. It's that temporary hesitation that causes us to think twice about trying the exotic hors d'oeuvres. Or it's the voice of experience that tells us that great idea may not be so great. The key is sifting through the fears that guide us toward intelligent decisions and the fears that impede our true potential as professionals.
For new dentists enrolled in our Practice Start-Up Program, most acknowledge five primary fears when it comes to opening their own practice. I talked about two in last week's newsletter. Below are the top 3.
#3 - Not Being Able to Hire the Right People for Lack of Money
#2 - Not Enough New Patients
The bottom line - if you do not tell people about your practice through a professional marketing campaign, your fear of no new patients has a much greater chance of becoming a reality. It is critical that doctors budget 4-6% of their anticipated production for the coming year for marketing. Sadly, we see doctors in a panic because they have spent a fortune equipping multiple operatories with all the “must haves” they couldn’t live without. Yet the doctor has virtually no money left to market the practice.
#1 - The Competition
Many dentists think their practices deliver excellent customer service, but few train their teams to ensure excellence and even fewer monitor customer service. Most business staff have no understanding of how to most effectively manage new patient phone calls, how to build rapport, how to make the prospective patient feel good about calling this office. Something as fundamental as doing what they promise they will do is often overlooked by staff. If you promise the patient that you will send them information, contact their insurance company, phone in their prescriptions, etc. - do it! Too many staff allow patient promises to fall through the cracks, thereby eroding patient confidence in the entire practice.
Additionally, rather than worrying about the dentists down the street, go visit them. Walk into their offices and introduce yourself. Check out the interior, pay attention to how staff and the doctors make you feel when you walk in the door. If you don't feel welcome there, I can virtually guarantee that their patients don't either. Study your competition, get to know them, and offer to take their emergencies when they are away.
Want more of me? Click here to visit my blog, The Lighter Side, for more Dental Practice Management info.
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Phone Scripts for Recall Patients
Various mechanisms are used for keeping track of recall patients and making sure that the hygiene schedule is full. The hygiene schedule is important, not only because the hygiene department is an income center for the practice, but also because necessary patient treatment is often identified and scheduled from recall appointments. When the hygienist(s) have “down time” the office definitely loses productivity and income.
While McKenzie Management has an excellent workbook for “Building a Successful Recall System”, detailing all pertinent aspects of beginning and maintaining a viable recall program, this article focuses on the topic of what to say when calling overdue patients. Many staff members dislike calling patients to schedule “past due” recall appointments, often for the simple reason that they don’t know what to say or how to say it. However, getting these patients back into the system is vital. It is not cost effective to spend time and money on getting new patients into the practice, if existing patients are allowed to disappear from neglect.
To begin with, the office “recall caller” needs to have basic information about the patient being called. Computer data can provide what is needed:
Armed with this data we can begin to develop effective scripts for patient calling. Here are some examples:
“Mrs. Jones? This is Carol from Dr. Westin’s office. I’m very happy I was able to reach you today. Our records show that your last professional cleaning and oral health exam was in March. As you know, your dental insurance covers at least two professional cleanings and exams each year, but does not carry over that benefit into the next calendar year. In other words, if the benefit is not used you lose it. Most of our patients want to be sure to take advantage of their insurance, and we are happy to help them keep track of what they can use. Our hygienist, Mary, has time next Wednesday at 2 pm and Thursday at 9 am, which of these appointments would you prefer?
“Hi Mrs. Jones, this is Carol. I’m one of Dr. Westin’s hygienists. Our records show that you had special gum and bone treatment, in the form of infection elimination and root scaling in March. As you know, after being diagnosed with a gum and bone infection it is extremely important to never let the infection take hold again. That is why we decided to put you on a reliable maintenance schedule of care four times a year. We missed seeing you in July, and want to be sure that you are getting the follow-up care you need. I have time next Wednesday at 9 am and next Thursday at 2 pm. Which of these appointments would work for you?”
“Hi Mrs. Jones, this is Carol from Dr. Westin’s office. Our records show that your last professional cleaning and oral health exam was in March. At that time Dr. Westin also noted that he wanted to check two teeth on your top left side when you returned. We missed seeing you in September, and want to be sure that you are getting the follow-up care you need. We have time this Wednesday at 9 am or Thursday at 2pm. Which of these appointments would work for you?”
“Mrs. Jones? This is Carol from Dr. Westin’s office. As a courtesy I’m calling to schedule your son Joey’s professional cleaning and oral health exam. As we talked about when you brought him in last time, we want to be sure that we are keeping ahead of any cavities he might be getting. We want to examine all “in-between-the teeth” areas, and provide him with a fluoride varnish. None of us wants him to need more fillings. We have time tomorrow at 2:30 in the afternoon. Can you bring him in then?”
If the recall caller has any personal connection with the patient, it can be helpful to mention the connection. For example:
“Hi Mrs. Jones, this is Carol from Dr. Westin’s office. I took care of you when you came for your professional cleaning and exam this past spring. You mentioned that you were getting ready to take a cruise then. Did you enjoy your trip? (If the patient wants to talk about the trip, go ahead!) It sounds like you had a great time. Well, today I’m calling because we missed seeing you at your regular professional cleaning and oral health exam last month. I’d like to schedule you right away. I have time tomorrow at 2pm. Would that time work for you?” (If not - keep trying to pin down a time.)
If the patient does not want to schedule, but tells you he/she will call back, you can try to get acceptance for another call from the office. For example:
“Mrs. Jones, I can call you back next week if you prefer. It’s no trouble.”
If the patient says again that they want to call you; do not press the issue. We don’t want our patients to feel “harassed.” Instead you might say:
“That’s fine, Mrs. Jones. We have your records and our notes so whenever you are ready we can set up a time. I’ll make a note in your file that you will call us. Thanks!”
Setting up scripts for calling patients helps keep the focus where it needs to be, namely, getting the patient to set up an appointment. While no one needs to say exactly what is in the script, a script takes much of the guesswork and some of the stress out of making these calls.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office”. Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keeping Up in a Down Economy
Like many business leaders, you're probably feeling the pinch of these turbulent economic times. The unemployment rate in the United States was last reported at 9.1% in September of 2011. There is great discontent as seen in the Occupy Wall Street protests that have emerged throughout the country. It's likely that patients are postponing treatment or downgrading to low cost alternatives.
It's during these times that leadership skills are put to the test. How do you show up for work? Complaining about the economy or the holes in the schedule will do nothing to make employees feel better or buoy their spirits. And whatever they feel will ultimately trickle down to patient care.
You need to strike a balance between ‘the sky is falling’ and ‘Pollyanna’. Direct employees to focus on how their actions directly impact the bottom line. Help them to see how they can work to achieve production goals and improve patients’ experiences. In conversations, show that you are concerned about them. Seek their ideas. Encourage risk-taking.
As for patients, during economic downturns they will be more careful about spending. Factors such as price and value take on greater significance. However, people's underlying needs do not change and dental leaders who continue to meet those needs will prevail. Here are some basics.
There is a positive emotional connection with the dental team.
They feel that their needs are understood.
The Doctor is authentic and has integrity.
They feel treated like an individual, not just another patient who’s like all the rest. Be careful to see each patient as unique. Avoid clichés and generalizations. Statements such as, “I see this all the time” may be intended to connote experience, but the impact of those words can convey, “You’re no different from 100’s of other people I see.”
Their time is respected.
Stop blaming the insurance companies, the economy, the weather. Focus on the things you DO have control to modify…yourself. Stop bringing your emotional baggage to work. Visualize the future with more financial freedom, whether its recreational activities, travel or simply more work satisfaction and joy. Pay attention to the emotions that accompany these inspiring images. Repeat this exercise several times per day.
This long term view will lead to big payoffs, not only as your practice navigates these difficult times but even more when the economy picks up. Set yourself up for significant competitive advantage. Engage your staff. Engage your patients. Become a more resilient leader. Today.
The potential to become a better leader is well within your capability! Contact Dr. Haller at: email@example.com.
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
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
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