Who’s Your Treatment Advocate?
Fifty thousand dollars going once! One hundred grand going twice! Half-a-million bucks, gone! No, we’re not bidding on a world-famous painting at Sotheby’s or Christie’s. Rather, it is the tens of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars that practitioners let slip away on a regular basis. It is occurring in practice after practice, and it doesn’t happen with great fanfare. Rather it is a quiet, subtle, and subversive process.
Consider “Dr. Roth.” He describes himself as a conservative dentist who takes pride in diagnosing only what the patient needs. He is successful by his standards and believes that he has very good case acceptance. Case in point, one of his patients, “Mr. White,” needs a crown. He has a cracked molar that needs attention. Dr. Roth has shown Mr. White with the intraoral camera where the problem lies. He has explained what can happen if treatment is not pursued. Mr. White knows he needs to take action. He knows how much the crown will cost. “I’ll check my schedule and give you a call,” he says as he leaves the office. Dr. Roth expects that Mr. White will indeed schedule the appointment promptly. After all, Mr. White has seen the tooth and Dr. Roth has thoroughly explained the need for treatment. As far as the doctor is concerned, he could “write the book” on how to present treatment.
But Mr. White is busy, and he forgets about that cracked tooth. After all, it’s not like it’s bothering him. He’ll get to it eventually. The daily demands of work, family, and other responsibilities compete for his attention. Personal “unpleasantries” like a time-consuming dental appointment are relegated to “I’ll get to it later” status.
As for Dr. Roth, he doesn’t give Mr. White a second thought until one day he decides to review the outstanding treatment report. Imagine his surprise when he discovers there isn’t just one “Mr. White” - there are dozens. $3,000 diagnosed, $1,500 diagnosed, $800 diagnosed and on and on and on. Surprise turns to shock, which turns to dismay when he adds it all up and discovers nearly $70,000 in unscheduled treatment in his patient records that has accumulated over the last several months.
I'd like to tell you these cases are rare. They’re not. We see it repeatedly, treatment plan after treatment plan recommended to patients but never pursued. The patient is told once that they need a specific procedure. The issue may come up again when the patient returns for the six-month dental hygiene appointment or it may not.
When it comes to clearly communicating a sense of urgency and the true consequences of routinely delaying necessary dental procedures, many practices fall recklessly short, and it goes well beyond revenues lost. It’s about being an advocate for good oral health.
Naturally, clinical staff believe they are advocates for oral health. After all, they are talking to patients about treatment and delivering care daily. But this type of advocacy goes beyond providing a service. This advocate is a champion for patient care. They are regularly monitoring the records for patients who have diagnosed yet unscheduled treatment. They are communicating to patients both the need for treatment as well as the long-term value of pursuing care. Moreover, they are financial advocates. They listen to the patients’ concerns regarding costs and can expertly recommend realistic options.
Who makes an ideal advocate? Your treatment coordinator. A treatment coordinator is a liaison with the patient who is both a “treatment advocate” and a “patient advocate.” This person speaks privately with the patient and presents the doctor’s recommendations in lay terms. S/he helps the patient feel at ease and comfortable asking questions. The treatment coordinator can help the patient understand the advantages of the practice’s various treatment financing models, including CareCredit. But perhaps most importantly, this person is professionally trained and prepared to help patients fully understand why treatment is important to their oral health and overall health. As a result of their efforts, patient oral health needs are not left to languish in the records.Next week, get treatment recommendations off the patient’s “maybe someday” list and onto the schedule.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
What’s Really Dragging You Down?
The excuses are many. Again and again practitioners will lament the countless external forces that wreak havoc on their profitability. Here are five of your favorite reasons for why your practice isn’t more productive: #5 Patients in my area won’t go for comprehensive dentistry. #4 We’re in a rural area/we’re in an oversaturated metropolitan area. #3 The staff can’t get along. #2 Good help is hard to find. #1 The economy. All of those are very good reasons, and certainly each can have an effect on practice profitability. But oftentimes there is another far more obvious factor to consider.
Maybe it’s time to turn the mirror on your own behaviors, doctor. Seldom do dentists consider that they may be the real reason why their practices cannot get ahead. Study after study shows that weak, poor, and just plain bad bosses take their toll on the economy, on employees, and ultimately on their own profitability. Inc. Magazine summed it up this way, “The real productivity killer – jerks.”
One report revealed that lousy leaders cost businesses $360 billion - yes that’s Billion with a “B” - annually in lost productivity. And it doesn’t stop there, three out of four employees report that the worst part of going to work is the boss. And 65% would take a better boss over a pay raise. Ouch! But here’s the irony, it’s NOT what the bosses do that cause the rub. It’s what they don’t do. A study of 30,000 workers repeatedly cited five primary failures among bosses.
1. Bad bosses don’t inspire. It’s up to you to motivate your employees.
No question about it, being the boss is not an enviable position, and how do you know if you’re a good or bad boss? Staff turnover is probably one of the clearest indicators. If you’re frequently scrambling to fill vacancies, chances are good you’re not exactly an easy person to work for. So, what can you do to improve?
Take a few cues from truly effective leaders. The really good bosses provide clear guidelines, necessary training, plenty of praise, and corrective measures when necessary. The best bosses also engage their teams and help them grow as professionals. They encourage and value their input and efforts to improve the practice. And they are always working to be better bosses themselves.
Create a culture for success. Set clear, challenging goals and specific expectations for your team. Explain the “why” behind the “what.” In other words, don’t just tell employees what to do - clarify why their responsibilities are important to the overall success of the practice. Monitor the team’s progress in achieving goals through regular staff meetings, system checks, and performance reviews. Celebrate and reward success often.
Set your employees up to succeed. Work with individuals and the team as a whole to define realistic goals that encourage the team to work at peak performance. Invest in training for employees to maximize their potential. Establish clear standards. There should be an office code of conduct, specific office policies, and business procedures that everyone must follow.
Communicate clearly and specifically. Avoid making general comments about an issue and assuming that someone will just pick up the ball and run with it. If you don’t communicate your desires clearly no one can be held responsible except you when those desires aren’t met. Be decisive and take action even when it is difficult. Certainly, a major decision such as terminating a staff member requires careful evaluation, but too often the doctor simply continues to look the other way, burdening the team and compromising the practice. Make listening a part of your management strategy. Seek input from the team. Welcome and encourage open communication, both bad news as well as good news.
Becoming a good boss requires that you are conscious of your behaviors, strengths, weaknesses, and how you relate to each member of your team. Make the effort to improve your own leadership skills and become a productivity powerhouse.
Interested in speaking to Gene about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Asking the Right Questions for Treatment Acceptance
Today if you come up against rejection, remember: This does not mean “no.” It just means “not this way.” - Lori Deschene
It should be simple. Present the diagnosis and options for treatment, and the patient accepts and appoints before leaving the office. But it often does not work this way, especially for treatment options that require the patient to participate with a higher co-payment or total out of pocket expense. When the patient’s enthusiasm for quality dental care dies with the total at the bottom of the page, it is time to rethink the presentation.
Professionally trained treatment coordinators are expected to achieve an 85% or higher rate of treatment acceptance. This person is responsible for answering the many questions that patients have but often don’t want to bother the doctor with, such as: “Why does the doctor think it needs to be done now? How much is the treatment going to cost me? Can I make payments? How many appointments am I going to need? Is the procedure going to be painful? What happens if I just wait a while?” And there may be many more questions that the Treatment Coordinator needs to be prepared to answer.
Not every personality responds the same way to information that has been presented to them. Often the patient does not know what to ask without appearing as if they weren’t listening. For some people, just asking for information or asking “why” is confrontational so there is little exchange. When information is first heard, often only 20% of it is truly understood. One of the worst actions to take at this moment is asking the patient, “Do you have any questions?” Of course there are questions, but with information overload it is difficult to verbalize. Try this approach: “Jane, you are probably wondering when this treatment needs to be done because you do not feel pain” or “Jane, you are most likely wondering if you can afford this treatment or if a cheaper option is available.”
Ongoing training to learn new dental techniques and technology will boost team confidence in conveying value of good dentistry to the patient. A well-informed auxiliary can help patients better understand treatment recommendations. The more knowledge your team members have about materials, treatment processes and technology, the more information they can share with patients. Educational programs via video clips help to promote understanding and acceptance, as well as other visual and tactile aids such as models and intra oral photos.
Having the patients become involved in their own treatment planning helps them to feel in control of how much treatment and at what cost. Consider building the relationship based on phasing the goal of wellness for the patient, not the disease. If it is necessary to get periodontal health with scaling and root planing of four quadrants, focus on the benefit of healthy tissue and bone needed to support the crowns and fillings that will be placed. Hand the patient a mirror and let them explore as you discuss your findings. Many people need to feel it, see it and touch it to own it.
When they own it, they want to buy it or want information on how to purchase the treatment. This is as sensitive a subject as a sharp probe in the mouth to many. Be ready with this question: “Jane, you are probably wondering what the cost is for the treatment and the options for payment. I have already prepared some payment options for you based on what most of our patients want and feel comfortable with paying.”
Be careful not to guilt the patient or bring unnecessary fear to the table. Have statistics and facts about the disease in understandable form. The question to ask would be “Jane, you are probably wondering what happened to create this problem when you never had it before?”
Always make sure the patient feels in control during the treatment exam and presentation. That you are listening to the questions they ask but also are sensitive to what they are not asking. Be prepared to ask the right questions and avoid “Do you have any questions?” At the end of the presentation try instead: “Jane, have I given you all the information that you need to make a sound decision?”
Want to improve your communication skills for treatment presentations? Sign up today for the Treatment Acceptance Training Course, or to develop and understand the numbers that grow your practice sign up for one of the professional Business Office Training Programs and improve your office performance.
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