Confirmation Calls: The ‘Rotary Phone’ of Patient Communication
Call them. Confirm them. Greet them. And you’ll reduce overhead, increase production, and enjoy success. No problem, right? I love three-step formulas, especially the ones that promise to lower my stress, slim my waistline, and make me rich. The only problem is that once you scratch below the surface, most of the time those seemingly simple formulas require a multitude of not-so-simple sub-steps. And that is usually where we get bogged down and give up. Shelve another good idea because it’s too much work, too much time, or too much money.
In the dental practice, ensuring that the practice achieves specific production benchmarks can easily fall into this category. There’s widespread recognition for the importance of achieving production goals, but it takes work - and no, I’m not talking about the dentistry. There is that seemingly always unpredictable variable: the patients.
Sure, everyone wants patients in the chair at the appointed hour. After all, that translates into money for the practice and production goals achieved. The concept of confirming appointments sounds so simple. Call them. Confirm them. Greet them when they show up on time as directed. But the truth is, this process is labor intensive and inconsistent for a variety of reasons.
For the staff, there are a multitude of other responsibilities that they believe warrant their time and attention far more than “babysitting” the schedule as it is often viewed. For patients, the phone calls are commonly viewed as annoying. And if they get the voicemail message you left, maybe they will remember to call back and let you know if they will keep their appointment, maybe they won’t. Given the digital communication options that practices have available to them today, it’s clear that the traditional model is not only outdated, it’s expensive – averaging nearly $3,000 per month – not to mention labor intensive.
What’s more, with so many other competing demands on dental teams, it can be very difficult to commit the time, energy, and staff to ensure that each of the key communication systems that support practice production are achieving the desired results. Translation: The dental practice is a hectic, fast-paced work environment. It is a real challenge to consistently and effectively execute each practice system successfully. The consequence is spotty, inconsistent practice/patient communications that can do more to undermine practice production than support it.
Consider “Jane” the business employee. She walks in Monday morning to four messages on the voicemail from patients who are cancelling their appointments – two that day and two more booked for Tuesday. Jane might as well put on the red cape because she will need to pull off more than a few super-hero moves, starting with promptly filling the gaping holes that now threaten today’s production goal, as well as shore up the schedule for tomorrow. In addition, in this small office, Jane must turn her attention to patient check-in and check-out every few minutes. Is it any wonder that those confirmation appointments that are supposed to be made no less than two days prior are likely not going to get the attention they need and deserve?
But what if a significant portion of the practice/patient communication responsibilities could be completed using today’s digital communication options? Would the practice have to spend thousands more than it already is to automate practice/patient communication? Quite the opposite. According to data from Sesame Communications, most practices would reduce overhead costs by nearly $21,000 per year. What’s more, while costs go down, effectiveness goes up.
So how does automated patient communication work? When the patient comes into the practice, the business staff collect the patient’s email address and input it into the practice management system. An email will automatically be sent to the patient that explains to them the many features they can access through the practice website, such as subscribing to specific emails, viewing their treatment plan, paying account balances, confirming their appointments, and more.
Appointment reminders are just one aspect of communicating with patients in a way that is fast, easy, convenient, and consistent. But beyond the fact that digital patient communication significantly simplifies this critical practice system, the fact is, today, patients expect it. In their minds, those phone call reminders need to be boxed up and stored away right along with those vintage rotary phones.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Image, Brand and Reputation
How are you perceived? How do you want to be perceived? Do they match? Image is the perception others form about you, how they perceive you. It is based on what you do (or don’t do) and the impressions you make on people. Image is based on a number of factors that include your behavior, body language, speaking style as well as formal status and physical appearance. Sad but true, we all make judgments about other people with only surface information about them. And we know from research that those first impressions are lasting. In this respect, image isn’t just a surface issue.
Brand is what people expect when they buy a service or product from you. Brand tells the consumer (in this case, the patient) what they can expect when they deal with you. It’s an implied agreement - when I buy this, I get that. How those expectations are met becomes your reputation. It’s a value perception. If your brand doesn’t live up to expectations, patients go somewhere else.
It’s important to take a good, hard look at the image you project in your office and in your community. Furthermore, it’s not only your actions that form your image, but also the actions of your employees. With so much at stake don’t leave it to chance. Take charge of what you are projecting. It’s not about creating a fake persona but really understanding the image you want to portray, gaining a clear picture of how people see you and developing the skills to close the gap.
As marketing professionals know, formal focus groups are necessary to find out what people really think. It doesn’t matter what people have to say when they are in a logical, analytical mode. What really matters is how they feel about you. It’s essential to know this if you’re going to become more effective, in business and in life. Should you seek out feedback from your employees? Absolutely. But since people will very rarely take the risk of criticizing their boss, you need to figure out a way to get honest feedback on how you’re doing.
Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership coach to top executives in many of the world’s leading companies, has a process that he calls feed forward. He believes that there is a fundamental problem with all types of feedback: it focuses on a past, on what has already occurred - not on the infinite variety of opportunities that can happen in the future. As such, feedback can be limited and static, as opposed to expansive and dynamic. He has developed a process for his clients to solicit information about how they can improve. Although it is deceptively simple at first blush, it is an amazingly powerful and safe way to get information for the future.
As an introduction, it is important to tell your employees that you are working on becoming a better leader. Otherwise your search for feed forward will be confusing. Then say: “Give me two things I can do to be a better boss.” Listen to their suggestions, even write them down. Learn as much as you can. Refrain from any commentary or rebuttals. Simply say “Thank you.”
Pay attention to the themes in your feed forward. Identify one behavior you would like to change that would make a significant positive difference in your practice. How you “show up” to work, the persona you present and how you mold your team - these are factors that contribute to your brand. Brand is the identifiable image that is reflected in what you do and how you do it. It is the foundation of your reputation. It’s how others view you, from patients to employees and vendors, and even your community. An image is not simply a logo or a trademark. It’s much more important than that. Build yours with purpose.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here
Front Office/Back Office: Cooperation or Conflict?
In a well-run, happy, competent office, the clinical staff and the business staff work together. Each is necessary for the office to succeed. Each is necessary for patients to receive proper care. However, clinical staff and business staff are not necessarily on the same page all the time. What draws a person to the treatment side of dentistry is often a desire to provide hands-on care to patients. What draws a person to the business side of dentistry is often an aptitude for organization and management. While it is common in many offices for there to be some overlap of front office/back office duties, a difference in staff temperaments is often a fact of life.
As a hygienist, I would love to have unlimited time to bond with my patients, perform my procedures, handle unexpected issues and promote necessary treatment. I would love for my dentist to be available right at the time I would like him to appear for the exam. I would like to have a big budget for new instruments and all the latest technology, and to never have to take care of any discussions of fees and insurance. And I would like for the front office to handle all computer problems so that I can concentrate on treatment.
My co-worker in the front office would love to have unlimited time to deal with insurance, billing, and unexpected issues patients have concerning their statements. She would love for the dentist to be available and willing to listen to her suggestions about promoting prompt payment for treatment. She would love to have a big budget for new office equipment and computer program improvements. And she would like for the back office to handle all treatment questions and issues so she can concentrate on making sure the front office is running smoothly.
Neither of us is likely to get all of the items on our wish list, particularly the part about having “unlimited time” and the “dentist always available”. However, we can cooperate with each other, and in doing so, increase the likelihood of having more of our work time spent on what we like and do well, rather than on what we don’t like, and therefore, often don’t do well.
Since the goals of the office include well-treated patients and good production; work together to promote this. Clinical staff should always point out and encourage necessary treatment, and make it easy for business staff to follow-up. Business staff can reciprocate by handling form generation and payment processes.
For example: I see that my patient may need a crown for a cracked tooth. Current radiographs show a breakdown in tooth structure, and I have taken a photograph today. The dentist diagnoses the need for a crown and explains that there is an undermined distal-lingual cusp as well as recurrent mesial decay under an existing inadequate amalgam. I enter all of this information in the computer chart. At the close of the appointment I walk my patient to the front desk, bringing along her routing slip and telling the business coordinator: “Dr. Smith wants Ms. Patient to have a crown on #30. That tooth has a crack in it as well as some decay. I have entered the necessary information in the computer chart so you can access that for Ms. Patient’s insurance. Dr. Smith thinks that this tooth should be taken care of soon so that it doesn’t break into the nerve.”
Now that the business coordinator knows the dentist and I have talked to the patient about what is recommended, she can access all that she needs for preparing a claim, and she can talk to the patient about the fee and what insurance may cover. She also knows that Dr. Smith wants the patient to come back soon. She is not left to field questions from the patient such as “Why can’t I just get a filling?” or “Can I wait to have this done until next year?” Instead, she can concentrate on making sure that all aspects concerning scheduling, billing, insurance, and patient payment are completed. Her time is spent on what she does well.
As the hygienist, I am not spending time entering a treatment plan, generating an insurance claim, or talking about fees. I focused on identification of possible necessary treatment, explaining and illustrating the problem via radiograph and photograph, providing essential treatment notes, and assisting the dentist in promoting treatment according to his diagnosis. My time is spent on what I do well. We work together to provide proper treatment, a smooth transition from the clinical arena to the business arena, and a professional, personalized approach to what the patient needs.
While individual offices may have different mechanisms for accomplishing day-to-day tasks, it is important to develop a philosophy and plan for making sure that it all gets done. In some offices it may make sense for the back office to engage in more computer entry. While in others, a front office person may be required to provide more in the way of treatment recommendation explanations.
Two ideas that might help right now:
1. Identify one “time-waster” the front office has to deal with and see if the clinical staff can help out. A common complaint is that patients get to the front desk with no transition in place and seem to not know why or if they should be coming back. One or two minutes is all it takes for the clinical person to provide such information to the front desk. Plus, it is a courteous method of releasing patients, similar to walking guests at your home to the front door when they leave.
2. Identify one “time-waster” the clinical staff has to deal with and see if the business staff can help out. A common complaint is that clinical staff end up taking charge of “too much” computer entry. Treatment plan and insurance claim generation can be accomplished at the front desk if the proper information has already been entered in the computer.
The important thing to remember is that we do better within an atmosphere of cooperation! The office runs more smoothly, patients are happier, and the bottom line is better.
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.
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