8.3.12 Issue #543 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Revenues Evaporating? Do This.
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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It's dry out there. In some parts of the country, this summer looks to be serving up one of the worst droughts in decades. Water restrictions are being put into place and crops are cooking as the nation continues to bake under the summer sun. Many dental practices are feeling the effect of a drought of their own - this one being a lack of patients. Patients are cancelling, they don't show up, they are late, and tempers among the team are running hot as a sun-scorched summer day. The doctor is pacing. The hygienist is wringing her hands. The business staff are ready to wave down cars in the street to get bodies in the chairs.

mailto:info@mckenziemgmt.comIncreased patient cancellations and no-shows is a trend that we see across the country. Not in every region - but in many - practices are experiencing difficulty keeping schedules full. Certainly, the economy is a factor, but before you hang your head in hopeless resignation that there is nothing you can do about it, read on. With appropriate systems, patient no-shows and cancellations can be dramatically reduced regardless of today's ever fluctuating economic whims.

First step, pay attention to what staff are saying to patients. This is critical because, as I have noted countless times, patients look to the clinical and business teams for cues. If there is the slightest indication that the appointment can be delayed or is not necessary or if the messages are mixed, patients will take that as their signal to promptly exit and get back to you when they feel like it.

Here's a common scenario in many practices: A well-intentioned Scheduling Coordinator is trying to schedule a recall visit for the patient who is due to return in six months. The patient has absolutely no idea what her schedule is going to be then and prefers to wait. The Scheduling Coordinator is trying to be helpful to both the patient and the practice and explains that if the patient doesn't book the appointment, she may not get one because the practice always books six months out for hygiene appointments.

“Let’s just get you on the schedule. If you can’t make it when the time comes, just call and we’ll reschedule it then,” says the Scheduling Coordinator. In effect, she is contradicting herself, and the patient is puzzled. First the patient must be scheduled because the appointments are filling up quickly, and it’s going to be practically catastrophic if the patient doesn’t schedule now. Then the Scheduling Coordinator indicates it’s really no problem to cancel if the patient discovers the time won’t work.  Mixed messages defeat the purpose, and the purpose is to have patients in the chair.

If it is clear that a patient prefers not to book an appointment six months in advance, do not pre-schedule. Rather, tell the patient that s/he will receive a notification two-to-four weeks in advance of the date s/he is due for his/her professional cleaning/periodontal maintenance appointment. Then direct the patient to call the office and schedule the appointment when s/he receives the notice. 

Dental teams have long operated under the illusion that six month scheduling would guarantee a full schedule. Certainly, this approach works for some patients who have an established history of keeping their appointments, but to insist on six-month scheduling for patients who have clearly indicated that this doesn't fit their busy, unpredictable lifestyles only exacerbates the problem of cancellations and no-shows.

Knowing what to say and what not to say to patients is only part of the solution to reducing this vexing practice problem. Next, evaluate the various methods of patient/practice communication, specifically those related to appointment confirmations. It is essential that practices contact patients using the communication tools patients prefer, including text messaging, email, postal service, cell phone, business phone, home phone, and in some cases a combination of those. While text messaging and email appointment confirmation have grown in popularity, it's critical that business staff ensure the patient receives the message sent and responds.

Simply sending a text message or an email to a patient reminding them of the appointment is NOT a confirmation. The patient must respond to the message acknowledging receipt and indicating if they plan to keep the appointment. If the patient does not respond to the text and/or email message, the practice must have an established protocol for following-up by phone to make contact with the patient.

Next week, killing time or filling time?

For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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Belle DuCharme, CDPMA
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The Funnel Theory in Dental Business
By Belle DuCharme, CDPMA

The funnel theory in marketing refers to building a large database of prospects that with follow-up will “funnel” down to be buyers of services and products. Dental practices, as with most small businesses, do little or no follow-up with their customers. The store door opens and the waiting game begins for customers to show up. If we imagine the dental office as an open store without appointments, where patients walk in during store hours and are accommodated according to their needs and your ability to serve them, how would the schedule look? If the dental office operated this way, what would you do to attract new patients?

Lately the schedules in many dental practices have open time - and not entirely due to cancellations and no-shows. The challenge to create a profitable schedule every day requires focus and a commitment of time. In order for the funnel theory to work, a large volume of prospective patients must be created. In dentistry, this is referred to as the active patient list. In practices that have relied on word of mouth to grow, it is wise to see that other tactics need to be in place to stimulate growth. Think of the following as ways to fill up your funnel - or as the “lucky seven.”

1. Increase Contact with Potentially New Patients
Everyone needs a dentist at some point in their life. It could be your practice they choose. Join the chamber of commerce and other networking groups and attend local business functions - not just the dental society. Don't just show up, pass out your card or information and introduce yourself to everyone in the room. When you pick up the dry cleaning, drop off your card. When you go to the local florist, drop off your card. Have your staff do the same. When you are giving out contact information, ask the potential patient for their email or phone number so that you may contact them with a special offer or information about your practice. Create an energy buzz about your practice.

2. Update or Create an Effective Website
Drive people to your site with Search Engine Optimization. Always have a contact page where people can contact you with questions about your services and products. Many practices have websites, but if you are not getting patients from it you need to do something now.

3. Record All Prospective Patients in your Database
Your database allows staff to follow-up. Anyone that calls your office should be considered a possible new patient. Create an introductory incentive plan that could be a package special or an offer of complimentary whitening and cosmetic evaluation.

4. Maintain your Relationships
Once you have attracted a patient to your practice and they have had a positive experience, the challenge is to maintain the patient/customer relationship with repeat business. Send out thank-you notes and encourage patients to review your practice online.

5. Follow-Up
Design your follow-up plan to include the best way to contact each of your patients. Many of today's patients list the internet and email as the best way to reach them. Depending on your demographics, you may find that many of your patients still want to hear a voice on the phone. The issue here is a planned system of follow-up with incentives to return to your practice.

6. Excellent Customer Service
All of the great offers and incentives in the world won't keep patients coming back if you do not have great customer service. Sadly, many practices don't get the connection between making patients happy and the return business these actions create. Make your patient's feel that their business is important to you. Deliver your promise of excellent dental care and excellent customer service in all areas of the practice, not just on the phone.  How the phone is answered and what is said is extremely important, but if the patient doesn't get that level of attention throughout their experience in your office, they may not return.

7. Building Trust Builds Loyalty 
If patients know your practice is caring, fair and professionally excellent they will return year after year and will refer their family, friends and coworkers.

Need help with growing your practice? McKenzie Management has the marketing tools to increase new patients and help you to retain your current patients. From business training programs for your staff to internal and external marketing plans, McKenzie Management is here to help you.

If you would like more information on McKenzie Management'sTraining Programs  to improve the performance of your team, email training@mckenziemgmt.com

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Nancy Caudill
Senior Consultant
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How to Schedule New Patients Effectively
By Nancy Caudill

A new patient wants to get his/her teeth cleaned and is scheduled with the hygienist for 90 minutes. The doctor then visits the new patient in the hygiene chair, along with the hygienist. So - what is wrong with this picture?

First, I am going to assume that your state's dental guidelines assert that all patients must be diagnosed by the doctor regarding the necessity of radiographs, what kind are needed in order to make a diagnosis, and then necessary radiographs are to be prescribed by the doctor. In order to accomplish this, the doctor must sit down with the patient and perform an oral evaluation. How many times does your assistant take an x-ray(s) before you ever see the patient? Probably many times. Instead, the patient should see the doctor first, either in their chair or in the hygiene room for an introduction. They should receive a view of the medical history, and an oral evaluation of the purpose of prescribing necessary radiographs.

Hygiene or Doctor Side?
This is a practice philosophy and there is no “right or wrong” but let’s review a few thoughts before you make a decision. If you schedule new patients that want their teeth cleaned on the doctor’s schedule first, the doctor’s assistant will be responsible for taking the prescribed x-rays and blood pressure. In order to schedule properly, it should be determined exactly how much time is needed to perform the tasks by the assistant prior to the doctor’s return to the operatory to complete his/her comprehensive exam. Once the exam is completed and the treatment plan is created, the patient will then be seen by the hygienist for a professional cleaning (if it is warranted) or education relative to their periodontal state. The hygienist should support the doctor’s diagnosis and reinforce the need for the next appointment, as indicated by the assistant when the patient is escorted to the hygiene room. “Mrs. Jones is ready for you, Cindy. Dr. Smith has recommended two fillings on the upper left side for her first visit.”

In this scenario, the preliminary fact-finding steps are already completed by the assistant, and the doctor and the treatment plan can be proposed at that time. Some dentists, however, prefer not to evaluate the teeth if they are “dirty”, as it makes it harder to make a diagnosis. The use of other diagnostic equipment is also difficult to impossible since the occlusal surfaces are not free of plaque.

The second option is to schedule the patient on the hygiene side and allow 20-30 minutes for the doctor to spend with the patient for their consultation. Keep in mind, however, that the doctor still must come in and perform their initial oral evaluation in order to prescribe the radiographs, as well as make a diagnosis regarding the patient's periodontal tissue. The hygienist will then proceed to complete her fact-finding tasks such as using the intra-oral camera, intra-oral digital photos, and periodontal charting. If the doctor has given the green light for her to perform a professional cleaning, she can proceed with that step until the doctor returns to complete the comprehensive exam and prepare the treatment plan.

If the patient has periodontal disease, the patient must be informed and educated regarding how to treat and control the disease. A debridement could be performed if the calculus prohibits the completion of a successful periodontal chart. At that point, the patient is scheduled for their next visit, depending on the treatment plan by the doctor.

The big question is always the same - what to do if the patient is periodontally involved? The practice should have a protocol that is followed by the hygienists regarding how to proceed with a patient that is diagnosed with periodontal disease.

Do I Block for Time on the Doctor's Side?
If the preference is to schedule the new patient with the hygienist, it is also imperative to block time on the doctor's schedule to allow time to conduct the comprehensive exam in the hygiene room. This step is quite often missed in many offices. As a result, the doctor will leave the patient they are working with to conduct the exam, leaving their patient waiting for 20-30 minutes. Now the doctor is behind in his/her schedule and has no way to make it up. This is poor customer service for the patient in the doctor's chair. Had the time been blocked at the beginning or end of the hygiene appointment for the exam, there would not have been a patient waiting in the doctor's chair.

Develop a plan with your team to better manage the scheduling of your new hygiene patients. Determine what will work best for you, but have a plan. Simply scheduling them with the hygienist and leaving your patient at some point while you conduct this longer and more complex exam is not efficient. Keep in mind that “children” don’t need as much time. Determine at what ages various times are needed and when blocking on the doctor’s side is not necessary if the patient is scheduled on the hygienist’s side.  This is especially true for children.

If you would like more information on how McKenzie's Consulting Coaching Programs can help you IMPLEMENT proven strategies, email info@mckenziemgmt.com

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