Think Lost Patients are a Lost Cause? Think Again.
At this writing, the Dow has surpassed 13,000. Economic indicators continue to point to an improving economy. Most of us are holding our collective breath, waiting to exhale and enjoy a long and much anticipated sigh of relief. We've had enough of the recession, enough of the start-stop-start economic recovery, and enough of world events derailing progress at home.
Dental practice owners are eager to see improvements, and thankfully many are. If the great recession did anything positive for dentistry, it forced many dentists to give up the illusion and face the realities of chronic system shortfalls that had long been masked. However, we continue to see grossly neglected recall systems that are exacerbating practice problems, particularly with treatment acceptance and patient attrition. More on that later.
Today, as we chip away at the recession and dental offices reposition themselves to build on the growing economy, it's critical that practices look first at fundamentals. Number one: Know where patient numbers truly stand. Certainly, the last few years have caused patients to find multiple reasons not to return to the dentist. But once you know how many you've lost, you can implement a strategy to get them back. To assess your situation, gather data from a few key reports, starting with the production reports.
Depending on your software system, one of the reports may be called Production by Provider, Practice Analysis, or Production by ADA Code. It is very useful for tracking new patient comprehensive exams. Just be sure those members of your team who are responsible for posting procedures to a patient ledger use the appropriate codes for new comprehensive examinations.
Each month, run the report for exactly the last 12 months. It should show specifically how many new patient exams were performed in your practice in the last year. Write that number down. Next, run an overdue recall/continuing care report for the same timeframe. You're looking for every patient who was due back into the practice during the past 12 months. Write that number down. For example, your results may show 200 new patients and 300 existing patients overdue for recall. You've effectively calculated patient flow ratio. What's more, you now know exactly who has not been scheduled.
In addition, it's time to understand where patient retention numbers are. Answer the following questions.
If the number of inactive patient records is enough to open a second practice or if you answered no to question two, you have lost and are losing patients.
When you consider that it costs five times as much to attract a new patient as it does to keep an existing one, it becomes abundantly clear that investing time and effort in a patient recall and retention strategy is far more than just a good idea. Certainly, today's more frugal patients may want to know that they are receiving value if they make the investment in your care. But don't assume that inactive patients won't return to your practice, many just need the practice to contact them. In fact, in most cases, patients appreciate it if you value them enough to make the effort to reconnect.
Start with your targeted patient list. This is the report you generated from your computer of all patients past due for recall appointments in the last twelve months. Next, give your inactive patients a good reason to return. Send a professionally printed notice to every adult in your active and inactive files who is or was a patient in good standing. Let me be clear, this communication is not a cheap and cheesy little 3x5 postcard that has cartoon characters on it or puppy dogs or scenic pictures that have absolutely nothing to do with dentistry. The cards should impress upon the patient the value of returning to your practice.
I recently designed professionally worded and educational recall reminders for our clients and am now making them available to our readers - GO HERE. These one-of-a-kind recall reminders can be customized to contain a specific message directed toward each patient. They go into an envelope. Why an envelope? Because when patients have to open an envelope they are engaged. You have their attention. Professional communication tools emphasize the professionalism of your practice and the value of your care.
Next week, do this and get patients back in the chair.
For more information on this topic and for additional Dental Practice Management info, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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How to Interview for Quality Employees - Part II
In my previous article, we discussed the initial steps of keeping or not keeping new employees and how to start the interview process. Let's continue on with the task of narrowing the candidates down to a workable number.
During the past two years and the decline of the economy, layoffs of dental employees became more prevalent. As a result, one might assume that the “hiring” market to obtain dynamite dental employees would be at an all time high. However, dentists are still struggling to find “good” employees. It seems that the experienced, quality dental employees are still working and were never laid off in the first place. As a result, it may take more time to find a good fit for your practice. Be patient! Don’t hire the first person that sits in your interview chair.
Resumes today are being sent by email and it’s not uncommon, after placing an ad, to receive lots of emails. To organize this process, create email folders: No, Maybe, and Yes. Slide each one into the appropriate folder as you maneuver through the steps below. When it’s time to start making your next cut, start in the “yes” folder first. Hopefully you won’t have to open the “maybe” folder.#1 - Sort Through All the Resumes and Cover Letters
• Check for poor spelling or grammar.
• Avoid hiring someone that seems to have a different employer every 6-12 months unless you only want them for a short period of time.
• See if they followed your ad's instructions and attached their cover letter.
• Contact their previous employers.
#2 - Create 10 Questions
Another good question is: “What do you feel that you can bring to my practice from your previous experiences?” A good applicant will take a moment to think about their answer to avoid saying something that makes no sense.
Follow the legal guidelines of what you can and can’t ask, such as age, race, religion, marital status, children, etc. If you are a real “techie” then you should consider using Skype or your iPhone to conduct the interview. It is much more personable and also demonstrates how techno-savvy they are, as well.
Don't forget to ask what salary range they are looking for. Even though you included this in your ad, sometimes they respond anyway hoping that they can squeeze more from you - and maybe they can! Often, they are looking for more than your budget allows. Move on. Indicate this is the first step of the interview process. Contact them via email or call as a courtesy to let them know if they will be invited for a personal interview; otherwise, wish them the best in their pursuit of employment.
#3 - The In-Office Interview
Have available the copy of the notes you made from the telephone interview. Refer to the applicant’s responses and possibly ask them to elaborate a little on their comments. This is really the time to check your “gut” and see if you feel comfortable and genuinely like this person. You can tell in a matter of a few minutes. That is all the time that your patients will have, especially if you are hiring for a business position. Trust what your gut is telling you - it is usually right!
Look for eye contact, the mimicking of your posture, any nervous twitches they may have such as twirling their hair, pen, bouncing their foot, etc. Make additional notes to help you remember who they are - hair color, what they are wearing, etc.
#4 - The Final 3
In Part 3 we’ll discuss the “working interview.” Happy Hiring!
Hygiene Appointments and Patients Who Don't Show
From USA Today, “Results out this week from a Gallup-Healthways poll of 355,334 Americans indicate that more than one third of the population, 34% to be exact, did not visit a dentist last year at all. A recent American Dental Association survey shows dentists incomes are dropping, too, and some dentists say patients who have lost dental insurance are asking about alternative payment plans or skipping appointments.”
This is not new nor should it be alarming, as it has always been a challenge to motivate patients to come in for routine dental maintenance visits. Often seen as elective by those who are driven by pain to seek dental care, the hygiene visit has been showing more dropouts than scheduled treatment in many practices across the country. Demographics and psychographics drive these figures as some offices are doing well with little change in production/collection statistics, yet others have declined as much as 30% or more. The small businesses that are the backbone of the economy in this country have had to downsize staff or in many cases, in order to keep their people on the payroll, have eliminated benefits such as dental coverage. Unfortunately this sends the message that dental care is elective or a luxury.
No two practices are alike and it is difficult to identify what is causing the weak areas unless a dental consultant comes in and does a thorough analysis of all business operational systems. Two very important practice statistics seldom known by the dentist or staff are the new patient numbers (those patients who have had a comprehensive exam, x-rays and professional cleaning) and patient retention percentage (how many active patients do you have returning and how many have left the practice). These should be analyzed quarterly and yearly.
From professional experience and research, there are certain protocols that must be followed in practices on a daily basis to increase the chance of survival in the toughest of economies. Each of these protocols takes leadership to introduce and train the dental team to implement in their daily routine.
One of the most important protocols is the message we send as a team to the patient coming in for a hygiene visit. Too much value is placed on a pre-appointed visit, because it is viewed as a commitment by the dental team. But often the patient pre-schedules because that is what is expected of them - and the real motivation to return is absent. If the patient does not show up after being confirmed and reminded, the team is upset.
It is not always about the teeth - it is about the effort made to connect to the patient and build rapport. It is the relationship as a healthcare partner that is missing. It is easy to break an appointment, but it is difficult to break a relationship. Every hygiene appointment deserves a “hello, how are you?” by the dentist and dental assistant, even if the patient is not due for an examination. Each time the patient enters the practice they should be treated like visiting royalty. Often the staff is so glued to the schedule and daily tasks that they forget why they are there - to serve the patient.
Whoever is performing the hygiene maintenance visit should treat that visit like it is the most important health care examination the patient is receiving this year. Most people that work in dental practices are “feeling” in their temperament types and want the patient to feel good - but don’t make them feel so good that they don’t come back: “You are doing great with your oral hygiene care, Betty, so we should see you back in six months. Make your next appointment with Bea at the desk.” Bea is then seen as responsible when the patient doesn’t show or cancels.
A message from the clinical team should be something like this: “Betty, it is always a pleasure seeing you and helping you to keep healthy and pain free. There are areas in your mouth that look great and I can see the improvement in the tissue. There are other areas that I would like you to pay particular attention to and spend more time with the brush and floss. Hold the mirror and I will show you. I think that you could go six months to your next professional cleaning and examination if you maintain your home care. I have noted some areas that I want to examine at your next visit. It’s important that you keep your scheduled visit with us so that we can continue to help you stay healthy. I am looking forward to seeing you again soon.”
For business training on communication with your patients, enroll in McKenzie Management's Front Office Training today.
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