Eliminate the #1 Barrier to Treatment Acceptance
Although the foundation of your practice/patient relationships is typically built over time through preventive and routine restorative procedures, those established relationships can take on a different dynamic when a more costly procedure is recommended and payment issues must be addressed.
The goal during these discussions is to ensure that patients understand the value of your care, but most importantly that you genuinely care and value them. Keep in mind that patient attitudes today are different than they were a decade ago. Fewer of them immediately pursue treatment just because you’ve recommended it. They need a good reason. They need education. And they need to feel like they have a relationship with you and your practice. In fact, relationships have never been more important in influencing patient behaviors than they are today.
Building those relationships begins with listening carefully to patient concerns and communicating your understanding of their situation. If the patient doesn’t verbally express any objections, but their body language indicates that they are uncomfortable, ask a few specific questions to encourage them to open up. This will give you an opportunity to address concerns, and perhaps clear up any misperceptions.
I strongly recommend the use of scripts to prepare for financial discussions. These can be tremendously helpful in ensuring that everyone who handles payment conversations is well prepared. Develop them in advance and think through common scenarios that arise and how you and your team will handle them. Incorporate questions to elicit responses from patients who may seem reticent or uncommunicative. Scripts will guarantee that you are not left searching for the right words to effectively respond. Best of all, they are an ideal tool for those who find financial discussions difficult. And using them to prepare for patient conversations will most assuredly build not only your confidence but also your coffers.
While it is important to plan and to practice, a one-size-fits-all approach will not be effective and could come across as insensitive. For returning patients, consider what you’ve learned about them in the past to create a comfortable and relaxed environment. If they are normally upbeat and casual, then keep the conversation light. If they are normally more reserved, match their demeanor while still projecting a feeling of enthusiasm and confidence. New patients may require more time and new patient questionnaires will be essential in gathering critical information about their oral health priorities, goals, and concerns.
Consider what you know about the patient when deciding how to approach a financial discussion. If you are aware that he or she has been experiencing financial difficulties, it might be best to present payment options, perhaps a monthly payment or CareCredit, before revealing the total cost. This will help avoid a sticker-shock reaction that can cause the patient to shut down and not hear anything else that is discussed.
It’s important to continually educate patients about the importance of dental care, not only in terms of their oral health, but their overall health as well. Don’t assume that they know. In fact, most have very little understanding or even awareness of the many studies and reports that show the link between oral health and overall health. Educate them and they will place far greater value on the services you provide.
Make sure the right person is delivering the dollar discussion. A trained financial coordinator who is confident and friendly should handle payment conversations. They should reinforce the benefits of the care you are providing. Some people may value the appearance of a healthier smile, while others are interested in avoiding more costly procedures down the road. Doing your homework to determine beforehand what motivates the patient to seek dental care will pay huge dividends in reassuring them that they are getting their money’s worth. Most consumers don’t like being sold something, but they do enjoy buying things that they desire. You can help them along in the buying decision process by discovering their motives and repeating them back to them.
Once a patient has indicated that they wish to proceed with the recommended treatment, emphasize the wisdom of their decision and make sure that you and your team are prepared to schedule the appointment promptly. Demonstrating compassion, understanding, friendliness, and careful preparation gives patients confidence in the quality of your dentistry and the value of your care.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Looking Beyond the Coverage
Did you know that to participate in insurance group plans, you the dentist must be “credentialed”? Credentialing is a contract between a dental plan and the individual dentist who agrees to comply with the terms of the agreement and accept the fee schedule(s) offered. A dentist can apply for participation when s/he has a license in the state where the doctor is interested in becoming an In Network Provider. To become credentialed, you will be required to provide several documents.
Should you choose Type 1 NPI or Type 2 NPI? One of the most confusing decisions for the dentist is choosing between a Type 1 NPI verses a Type 2 NPI number. A Type 1 NPI is required if a dentist is putting his or her social security number on the dental insurance claim forms and is a solo practitioner, whereas both a Type 1 and a Type 2 are needed if the practice’s name and Tax Identification Number (TIN) are used for billing purposes. If the dentist owns multiple locations, billing under separate TINs, an additional Type 2 is needed for each office. You can find additional information on Type 1 and Type 2 NPI HERE.
The next step in the process is to establish a Usual Customary Rate (UCR) for your practice or evaluate your current one. A UCR is the charge for dental services that is consistent with the average rate or charge identical or similar services in a geographical area.
It is vital to be competitive within your own zip code and specialty. A fee schedule analysis will show if you are competitive, and you will be given percentages to choose from. This can be requested through companies such as McKenzie Management. Your UCR should be billed on all claim forms to all dental plans regardless of your participation. In doing so, you are telling the dental plans that this is the fee you charge for each procedure. This will help to create a Reasonable Customary Rate (RCR) for your area that will benefit the entire dental industry.
Once you have become an In Network Provider you will be listed in the dental provider directories. Patients will utilize their dental plan directories to look for a dentist close to their home or work to obtain the In Network insurance benefit. They have the capability to search the Internet for their plan’s participating providers by zip code, name or specialty. If your name does not appear on this listing, you more than likely will never have the opportunity to obtain this person as a new patient. Being listed as a provider is a great source of marketing for your practice and could assist with filling empty chair time as well.
Keep in mind that a “group” is not credentialed, rather the individual dentists are. If a dentist is credentialed at another location, in most cases his/her credentialing will not transfer from one office to the next. Your participation is based on the TIN, the physical office address, and your dental license. If any one of these things changes you are considered to be an “Out of Network Provider” with most plans.
Even dentists with malpractice issues can most often become an In Network Provider. The process, however, may take a bit longer and it is based on the severity of any Malpractice case(s).
Credentialing is a specialty with many aspects that could either hinder or help your practice. Although it is very time consuming, it is imperative that you analyze all of your options. If you are not sure how to pursue this or don’t have the time to, make sure you seek assistance from companies or organizations that can direct you through this process.
Melanie can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (561) 422-9938
Want to be a Better Leader? Become a Better Communicator.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
• “I told them but they don’t listen.”
We all get caught up in talking and simply assume the other person understands. After all, it’s clear to us. However, communication is only as effective as how the recipient receives it. Just because you spoke does not mean that communication has occurred. In the end, communication occurs ONLY when the message you send is received completely by others.
Communication is the lifeblood of your practice, and the ability to speak (and write) clearly and fluently is a leadership competency. It is demonstrated by taking a logical, structured approach, adapting to the needs of the situation and the nature of the audience. It also involves checking that the audience understands the message. This competency ensures strong two-way communication.
Think about it. When you treat patients, you communicate to influence the outcome and maximize success. If the ‘talk’ is technical and clinical without considering the ‘value proposition’ to the patient, your case conversion will be low. Being a good communicator requires two-way communication, asking questions about their motivation for the outcome and listening attentively so you can confirm what will drive acceptance. It might be related to finances. It could be a brighter smile or the elimination of pain. By knowing what the patient wants, you can tailor your communication to increase the likelihood that s/he will accept your recommendations.
It works the same way with your employees. If you want a productive and efficient dental team, you need two-way communication with them. From job expectations to timely feedback about performance standards, it is your responsibility to be sure employees understand what you want AND for you to know what they need from you.
Calm yourself and be fully present. Communication is complex and the difficulty is magnified when you are overwhelmed and cranky. Under stress, we shift into survival mode. As a result, you cannot tune in to what others are saying and doing. Two-way communication goes out the window. Slow down, take a deep breath and filter what you say. You are likely ambitious, bright and quick-thinking, but patients and employees may not process information as rapidly.
Determine the desired outcome. Are you intending to impart knowledge or advice? Looking for a compromise or attempting to gain agreement? Searching for a solution? Be purposeful about your objective in communicating because it will help you to influence the flow of the conversation.
Listen with your eyes. Observe non-verbal cues, your own and the other person. Research studies have found that less than 25% of communication is through words. Frustrated facial expressions, sarcastic voice tonality, fidgeting and deep sighs are important indications that two-way communication is not happening.
Empathize with the other person and listen for what is not said. Two-way communication often breaks down when there is fear, anger, frustration, and shame. Ask questions to clarify the meaning of words and the feelings involved. Validate what the other person might be experiencing and pause. Be silent. Listen for how the other person responds. What people hesitate to say is often the most critical point.
Ask for feedback. Make sure the other person clearly understands what you are trying to say. Even if you think you have an agreement, invite input, thoughts and opinions. This information will help you and also show the other person that you value them.
Establish follow-up. Confirm actions that will be taken. For patients, schedule the next appointment. For employees, clarify responsibilities and set deadlines. When it is applicable, put agreements into written form so it is formal and concrete.
Be more conscious and intentional with your communication. Observe when you are at your best, and in what situations you are at your worst. As the practice leader you have a big impact on others. Remember that the adjustments you make in your communication are for YOUR benefit – your goal is to have a more efficient and productive practice.
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
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