Turn the Emergency Patient into Your Biggest Fan
When the Holiday Season is upon us, people tend to be a little stressed. They put things off and focus on more pressing matters like buying and wrapping gifts and enjoying festive Holiday celebrations. All is well until the dental emergency strikes. They don’t have time for a toothache this time of year! Unfortunately, many dental teams feel the same and unwittingly send mixed messages to the patient. Yet emergencies can be a huge practice builder, and given the circumstances, the patient is often more than willing to seriously consider a more comprehensive approach to their dental needs.
The process begins by ensuring that the patient feels welcome and at ease in the practice. Welcome them and greet them with a smile. Assure them that the clinical team is excellent and they will take very good care of them. Let them know about how long their wait will be. Ask them if they would like assistance completing their paperwork. If the patient is in considerable discomfort, take them into a consultation room or other quiet area where a staff member can help them fill out practice medical forms and other documents. The focus should be on making the process as easy and comfortable as possible for the patient.
Pay attention to cues the patient is giving. Does the patient appear anxious or fearful? Are they concerned about the cost of the treatment, the pain, or the time the procedure is going to require? Are they apologizing because it’s been such a long time since they’ve been in for an appointment? Have they had a negative dental experience in the past? Are they angry or frustrated?
In talking to the patient, the assistant should be able to identify the most likely obstacles the dental team will encounter when encouraging this patient to pursue comprehensive care. Track the common reasons why emergency patients wait until there is a problem before coming into the practice. Understanding the why behind patient reticence is essential to addressing it. From there the team can develop a patient communication strategy through the use of scripts and educational materials to overcome those barriers.
Just as scripts are essential at the front desk when answering phones, they are critical when educating patients about the value of ongoing dental care. Moreover, they are a safety net that prepares the staff to know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. If the patient is highly anxious, the team should have a specific script and protocol that they follow to put the patient at ease. If the patient is concerned because they don’t understand why they need a specific procedure, the staff should be prepared to respond through educational videos, printed materials, dental models, etc.
Anticipating patient concerns and being prepared to address them enables staff to educate patients confidently and consistently. Staff are not in a situation in which they have to think on their feet, because they have anticipated the barrier and have a plan to address it. What’s more, patients appreciate the effort to address their concerns and help them understand. The dental team isn’t just trying to get them out of the chair as quickly as possible so that they can return to their regular schedule.
After the treatment, escort the patient to the front desk, and impress upon them once again the importance of ongoing care. Explain to the scheduling coordinator that the patient needs an appointment for a comprehensive exam. Time should be set aside in the schedule to allow emergency patients to be scheduled for comprehensive exams as soon as possible, not in six weeks or six months, but preferably within the next week.
That evening or the next, the doctor follows up with a phone call to check on the patient and express the doctor and staff’s appreciation for the opportunity to take care of them. A few days later the patient should receive a package in the mail with printed information about your practice and your services. Attached to that is a handwritten note from the doctor’s assistant that speaks specifically to the patient’s experience, expresses concern for their well-being, and indicates that the staff is looking forward to seeing the patient again for their comprehensive exam on the designated date. Encourage the patient to learn more about the office and the team by visiting the practice website, and urge them to call with any questions.
Want more of me? Click here to visit my blog, The Lighter Side, for more Dental Practice Management info.
It Is Just A Cleaning
We have all heard the catch phrase “actions speak louder than words” - so I have to ask you and your staff: are the actions of the practice telling patients something different than what you want? Your patients may believe that “it’s just a cleaning” - but what if your staff believe that sentiment as well?All practices have had a hygienist call in sick. When this happens, the front office might immediately start canceling patients and rescheduling them to a later date. Some offices may cancel one or two patients and call in a substitute hygienist for the day. What about those patients that actually had to use one of their vacation days in order to have the appointment with the hygienist in the first place? Do you really want to cancel them?
Where do those patients end up in the schedule - are they able to get in the next day, one week, two weeks, may be they have to wait four weeks to get in to the hygienist because the schedule is full. This may really upset some patients, and what exactly are you conveying to them if they have to put off their hygiene appointment for an entire month, when they are supposed to be on a three-month recall, in order to maintain their periodontal disease? This is not something you would pre-block out, in case the hygienist gets sick.
Let’s look at the offices that cancel the entire day. If the patients have to be scheduled into the next week, the practice has just told that patient it is all right if you change your recall. One week is not a big deal. When patients that are on a three month periodontal maintenance appointment cannot get back in for another four weeks - that is really sending a message.Yes, things happen within the practice and patients need to be re-scheduled. However, the sooner they are back into the schedule the better off it is. One way to not only meet many of your patients’ expectations but also exceed them is for one of the hygienists, who only works 3 or 4 days a week, to add a day to accommodate the patients that need to be rescheduled.
The new open date may not work for all of the patients, but it is still worth telephoning the patients that needed to be rescheduled and saying: “Mr. Jones, our hygienist that had to cancel your appointment because of her baby being sick has added another day this week in order to get you in for your appointment as soon as possible, because it is important for your oral health to stay on your regular schedule.”
Even the offices that have a temporary hygienist come in to cover the day may have to cancel a few patients, either because they only want to see their regular hygienist or because they were the first or second patient of the day and the temporary hygienist could not make it in time. Another option, if you have more than one hygienist, is to ask the other hygienists if they could come in to work an extra day, either that day or even add a day when the office is typically closed. Possibly two of the hygienists could come in that week and work a half-day together.
When there are patients that took the day off specifically for their hygiene appointment, it is best to find a way to have them seen that day - even if it means canceling another patient that you know is retired or has a more flexible schedule. As a last option, if the doctor’s schedule has open time it would be better to move this patient into his or her schedule than to possibly lose a patient. So, before you JUST start canceling, look at all of your options and what other patients are in the schedule that day, and how you may be able to make it all work.
Stepping back and looking at the big picture can make a difference in not only the messages we send to our patients by our actions, but the production in the schedule for the day. One of the worst things you can do is think there is only one solution - to start canceling patients.
If the actions of the dental team are telling the patient “it’s just a cleaning”- then why wouldn’t your patients cancel or no-show their hygiene appointments?
Get Tebow'ed in 2012!!
It's one of the hottest stories in today's news - Tim Tebow. If you're not an NFL fan, Tim Tebow is the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Tebow gets credit for leading the team to six consecutive wins, rallying teammates to four improbable come-from-behind victories in a row. Although the drive for the playoffs stalled (the Broncos were defeated by the Patriots at the time this article was written), Tebowmania continues.He has transcended sports. Op-Ed pieces about him appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. He merited a skit on Saturday Night Live. His name has been acknowledged as an English language wordaccording to the Global Language Monitor.
“Te-bow-ing: verb - the act of ‘taking a knee’ in prayerful reflection in the midst of an athletic activity”
So is it really possible that this somewhat ambiguous power generated from within is powerful enough to win professional football games - or help you achieve your own practice success? Tebow certainly thinks so, as does famous author Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and prominent psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman.
Peale wrote one of the world's most famous self-help books, The Power of Positive Thinking. His central theme - "Faith in yourself makes good things happen to you." He called self-doubt life's "most devastating handicap" and claims that by eliminating negativity, you'll no longer be prevented "from achieving happiness and success."
Peale's steps to success, which apply to Tebow or anyone else, include "formulating and stamping indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding." He also recommends that: "whenever a negativethought concerning your personal powers comes to mind, deliberately voice a positive thought to cancel it out." Through his research, Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology, has furthered the central premise that: "positive emotions are frequently paired with happy circumstances."
Tim Tebow is an eternal optimist. He never gives up. Reminds me of the Optimist Creed:
Like Tim Tebow, I'm a big believer in the power of optimism. It is the foundation of all self-confidence. You can't be self-confident if you're not optimistic. And, optimism is a choice. So get up every day believing that good things will happen - and then go about making 2012 a very Hopeful New Year!
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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