Practice Profits in 1, 2, 3
Money matters, money talks, money makes the world go ‘round, time is money. Sound familiar? Yes, those tired yet true clichés attempt to quantify the value we place on money and the impact it has on our lives. Although money won’t buy happiness, knowing you can afford the mortgage, pay the lease, meet payroll and take a long overdue vacation will certainly have you breathing a little easier and sleeping a little sounder.
Understandably, in any dental practice there are likely to be occasional periods in which revenues dip. But if each month’s balance sheet has you feeling like the epitome of that fool and his money, mastering a couple of key financial principles will have you in the money sooner rather than later.
First, take a minute to conduct a simple 10-point financial assessment.
1. Are you making as much as you believe you should/could be?
Answering the questions above should give you a general idea of how your financial situation is affecting fulfillment of your personal and professional goals. Now take a close look at three key areas that have a direct and powerful impact on your revenue gains and losses: financial policy, collections, and accounts receivables.
#1: A Policy in Writing = Money in Hand
The goal is to collect most if not all of what patients owe at the time services are rendered. However, if you plan to allow patients to carry balances, establish specific parameters and don’t stray. Determine how long you are willing to wait for payment. A policy that extends credit to patients indefinitely is too lenient and is a liability for your practice. A policy that is too strict, such as one that does not accept insurance and/or does not provide a few payment options, is a deterrent to patients.
Post the policy on your website. Provide it in writing to all new patients in the patient packet. Remind existing patients in writing prior to the start of restorative or elective services and when educating patients about new services offered by the practice.
#2: Collect Today, Pay Bills Tomorrow
Be clear, direct, and polite. “The charge for today’s restorative treatment is $368. Will you be paying with cash, check, or charge? As a special service to our patients, we are happy to submit your insurance claim and the payment will come directly to you.”
Insured patients should be expected to pay all of their payment responsibility when services are rendered, unless their portion is over $200. For more costly procedures, be prepared to provide convenient payment options that are beneficial to both the patient and the practice. Consider offering a slight adjustment in the fees, such as 5%, for high-dollar procedures paid in full that will not be submitted to insurance as well as CareCredit payment plans.
Next week, #3 in your 3-step plan to practice profit.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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The “Missing Tooth Clause”
For Business Coordinators, Insurance Coordinators and Treatment Coordinators, the “missing tooth clause” strikes a sour note when it comes to presenting dental treatment to patients. If anything should be covered by dental insurance, wouldn’t it be replacing missing teeth? Unfortunately, approximately 90% of dental benefit plans will not pay to replace a missing tooth that was extracted prior to the coverage date of the patient. This is good protection for the insurance company, but sends the wrong message to patients. If the insurance company states in its policy that there will be no benefit dollars for the fixed partial dentures (bridgework) or implant, it may be interpreted as “if the insurance won’t pay then I don’t really need it.”
The negative consequences of losing supporting bone and the shifting of other teeth in the jaw - which can cause jaw misalignment pain and also accelerate the loss of more teeth - is of no concern to the insurance company. Many people suffer from low social morale and embarrassment from missing teeth, causing them to avoid people or cover their mouth when speaking - this is of no concern to the insurance companies either. The question to ask your patient is this: “Can you eat without teeth?” For the most part, the answer would be “yes” - but the question can open up a line of conversation about the quality of their oral health.
For those who are missing teeth here and there, it may not seem like such a big deal, especially if the toothless area is not visible when smiling or eating. Patients can learn to live with discomfort and can avoid foods they love if they can’t chew them properly. But people with missing teeth eventually suffer from the “sunken face” aged look, often long before they are truly old. Other complications can arise from not being able to crush and chew food thoroughly enough for proper enjoyment and digestion. Explaining these facts and illustrating them with photos and other educational aides is the responsibility of the dental professional - but it still doesn’t replace the fact that the patient is not going to receive dental benefits.
It can be confusing to patients who are trying to understand why the coverage is not there. The patient can be directed to bring this to the attention of his/her employer with the hope of getting a policy without the “missing tooth clause”. It can also be helpful to point out to the patient that even if replacing the tooth/teeth was covered in their policy, there would still be an out-of-pocket cost subject to a yearly plan benefit maximum. Instead of immediately drawing attention to the existence of the “missing tooth clause” you might consider asking this question: “Despite the fact that this policy is limited to coverage of preventive and basic services, would you feel more confident and enjoy life more if you could have your missing teeth back?”
This is a closed-end question but can be explored with the patient whether it is answered yes or no. If the answer is “yes” then this will lead into presenting the most favorable treatment options and presenting financing choices like affordable payments with CareCredit or a reduction in fee if paid in full at the time of treatment. When the question of insurance coverage comes up, the explanation might go like this: “Your benefits through this policy are for prevention of disease and basic repair services to existing teeth such as fillings and crowns. Pre-existing conditions such as missing teeth are not covered. Benefits of $_____ are estimated to be paid for your cleaning, x-rays, examination and tooth colored fillings. The partial is not a covered benefit.”
Many people would not seek dental care if it weren’t for dental benefits offered by their employer, even as limited as they are. The challenge of bringing value to services outside the realm of coverage can be improved with professional training in treatment acceptance and communications. Want to learn more about increasing treatment acceptance? Join us today for professional training, and end the frustration of unscheduled treatment. Details can be found HERE.
Sticky Front Desk Situations and Maintaining ‘Over the Top’ Customer Service
From time to time, sticky situations occur at the front desk that can potentially create unhappy patients. Let’s explore a few examples.
Example #1: You are responsible for the doctor and hygiene schedules, and there are four 10-minute openings in the morning because the appointments were not scheduled back-to-back, or maybe a patient cancelled and the slot was filled by an appointment with less time units. The end result... openings in the schedule which are causing lost production. You call the patients who are scheduled after these openings and leave messages asking them to come in earlier if they can. You move them up on the schedule, assuming they received the message and are excited about coming in earlier.
What just happened? First, these appointments should have been confirmed two days in advance by the patient, so let’s assume they were. The patients who were called to come in earlier did not retrieve their message. As a result, they arrive at their originally scheduled time. Another staff member who is checking them in may not even know their appointments were moved, and could say: “I was worried about you since your appointment was 10 minutes earlier, but I’m glad you are okay!” Your patient is now confused, as he/she already confirmed the appointment time two days ago.
Result: Unhappy patient and embarrassed front desk staff. Solution: Never move a patient to another time slot until the move is approved by the patient. Ten minutes is a lot of time for you and a lot of time for patients. Add an appointment note if you have to leave a message so if the patient calls back and someone other than you takes the call, they are aware of why the call was placed and can handle it accordingly.
Something I often hear in larger offices where more than one person answers the phone is: “Gosh Mrs. Jones, I didn’t call. Do you know who did and what it was about?” This does not make the practice appear to be very organized. If you have multiple business team members, make it protocol that when calls are placed and messages are left, the name of the team member who called should request that the patient ask for them specifically when calling back. In addition, the team member should make very complete notes in the Patient Journal, Account Screen, Contacts, etc. indicating who placed the call and what the call was regarding. This will allow anyone who answers the phone to go directly to the patient’s contact location and read the note. This protocol should apply to all personnel in your office who attempt to contact patients, whether it’s about a balance, insurance information, an appointment, a post-op call, etc.
Example #2: Mrs. Jones is scheduled for her next appointment without a clear understanding of what the appointment is for and how much her expected financial responsibility will be. When the appointment is confirmed the patient asks what the appointment is for. The doctor didn’t explain last time that it was necessary to come back.
Result: An unhappy patient who may cancel the appointment. Solution: When you are checking out patients, be sure they have a complete understanding of what and why they are scheduling AND what their expected “portion” is going to be. If you are unsure yourself, this is a breakdown in communication between you and the clinical team and a failed “hand off.” This is what should happen:
“Susie, we completed Mrs. Jones’ tooth colored fillings on the upper left side today and Dr. Smith would like to see her again as soon as possible for an hour to complete the fillings on the lower left side.” The hygienist then bids Mrs. Jones goodbye and hands Susie the completed routing form.
When the appointment is entered into the schedule, make sure it has the correct ADA codes and enter the payment estimate that Mrs. Jones was given into the Appointment Note. Our goal is to always have happy patients and provide over-the-top customer service. Communication is key to achievement!
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