3 Types of Patients Who Are Hurting Your Practice
Every dentist wants a strong patient base. Patients are the lifeblood of a practice, after all, and without them there wouldn’t be any dentistry to perform. The problem is, not all patients are created equal. I hate to say it, but there are actually patients who do your practice more harm than good. You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re the patients who are always running late for their appointments, or who give your front office grief when it’s time to make a payment. These patients not only cause undue stress for you and your team members, they’re also hurting your bottom line.
If you want to create a successful, profitable dental practice, you have to find a way to attract the right patients to your practice. Loyal patients who are happy to give you a referral and who trust you with their oral health care. If that’s not how you would describe the majority of your patients, it’s time to make some changes. Here’s a list of the three types of patients who are doing the most damage to your practice, and how you can turn these nightmare patients into loyal patients.
1. Patients who don’t show up for their appointments
I know that’s a scary number, but there are ways to reduce cancellations and no-shows. You can start by making sure patients understand the value of their appointment times. Educate them about the importance of maintaining their oral health, and they’ll be much more likely to show up for their scheduled visits.
It’s also important to confirm appointments two days in advance. Patients lead busy lives, and they might not remember scheduling an appointment with your office six months ago. If you rely on pre-appointing alone, it might be time to reconsider that practice. Most patients don’t know what they’re doing six months from now at 3 p.m., and chances are if they schedule an appointment with you for that far down the road, they’re going to cancel or not show up at all. If you’re not ready to give up pre-appointing altogether, consider developing a hybrid system.
2. Patients who don’t pay on time
When putting together your financial policy, consider offering third party patient financing, such as CareCredit. This will ensure that you get paid for what you produce, while also giving patients an affordable, interest-free way to pay for larger cases.
3. Patients who never come back
Yes, it’s frustrating when first-time patients don’t come back. But more importantly, losing these patients costs you thousands of dollars in undiagnosed treatment, as well as any referrals those patients may have made down the road. Not only that, it costs five times more to attract new patients to your practice then it does to keep the ones you already have. So, you really want those first-time patients to become long-term patients who turn to your practice for their dental care. Remember, patient retention is key to your practice’s success, and should be at about 95%. If you’d like to know how your practice is doing with patient retention, click HERE to take my free Patient Retention Assessment.
So how can you turn first-time patients into loyal patients? Focus on customer service and improving the patient experience. Take the time to talk with new patients about their oral health concerns, and don’t try to sell them on big cases right away. Get to know them, and encourage your team members to do the same. Simply put, start building relationships from the moment patients walk through the door, and they’ll be more likely to call your practice their new dental home.
These three nightmare patients can wreak havoc on your practice. But if you make some changes, you can turn them into happy, loyal patients. This will not only reduce stress in your practice, it will also improve your bottom line.
Next week: Want to attract and keep loyal patients? Follow these tips.
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Four Disciplines for the Dental Practice
Those of you who work in busy dental practices know that at times there is total chaos, at other times just chaos, and sometimes there is calm – and that is when the manager comes up to the desk and wants to know why the patient cancelled. Reflecting on a great book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving your Wildly Important Goals, by Sean Covey, Jim Huling and Chris McChesney, thoughts go to the “whirlwind”, a term from the book used to describe the everyday urgent priorities that fill the day in a business. Often we are lost in this whirlwind and think because we are “busy” we must be achieving our goals. But being busy is not always the same as focusing on what is most important to achieving our goals. We can convince ourselves that busy is productive and even profitable, until we look at the numbers at the end of the day.
The following is a summary of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, as explained by writer Clayton Christensen:
Discipline 1 – The Discipline of Focus
Discipline 2 – The Discipline of Leverage
Discipline 3 – The Discipline of Engagement
Discipline 4 – The Discipline of Accountability
Dental practices are often reactionary in how they operate. For instance, when there are cancellations and broken appointments in the schedule, the focus is on “why did they cancel?” There is a whirlwind of energy created, first to ask why the cancellation and next to fill the cancellation. A broken appointment is a “lag measure” because it has already happened. In achieving our “wildly important goals” (WIGS), we need to identify the “lead measures” – those that can influence a change in behavior leading to cancelled appointments.
Every WIG must contain a clearly measureable goal resulting with a date of completion. The formula “from X to Y by when” is the format for achieving goals. In this situation, the wildly important goal is to focus on preventing cancellations and broken appointments. Specifically, it could be to “decrease the number of cancellations and broken appointments 15% by November 30th.”
Track the number of cancellations and broken appointments in time units over the last twelve months. This is what happened, and now we need to decrease these numbers. As a leader, the manager or dentist will need to motivate the team to be involved in practice performance. What type of appointment is most often cancelled? Is it the 6 month prescheduled appointment? Is it appointments without financial arrangements? Is it new patients who were appointed more than two weeks from their initial call?Are there other influences affecting patient compliance, such as patients having to wait more than fifteen minutes to be seated? Was there a message of urgency? Were the benefits explained? By identifying the lag measures, the team can formulate the lead measures, those that will move the practice towards preventing cancellations.
At McKenzie Management, we look at the total practice systems and analyze them to determine what behaviors or systems need to be changed to achieve better results. Bring your wildly important goals to us and we will help you with practice success.
Communicating in a Chartless Office
This article is intended for offices that are paperless/chartless. I prefer the term “chartless” since dental practices purchase many reams of paper each year and are never truly paperless. For dental offices that are still using paper charts for patients, I would highly encourage you to take the leap to become chartless. If, at best, 5 minutes/chart is spent each day retrieving and filing each chart, multiplied by the number of patients that are seen each year, it adds up to quite a bit of time that could be better spent calling your past due recall patients, unscheduled treatment or overdue accounts.
Who is communicating? Have you, the dentist, given any thought to what and how much information must be communicated in your office – between you and your team members, among team members, between team members and patients, and amongst team members and other dental community people such as labs, referring dentists, insurance companies, software support, etc.?
How is it communicated? How is all of this information presented to the proper person in a timely and accurate method? When you had charts, much of the information to referring dentists, labs, and information about the patients’ treatment was written in the chart. Then, all of sudden, there were no more charts to depend on for much of the information. My guess is that everyone felt helpless for a while, having to depend on reading the notes in the digital chart or trying to find the scanned documents that now replace the referral letters, lab slips, and other necessary information that needs to be available.
Much information is transferred verbally between the team members to the patient and from the doctor to the team members. In many cases, the breakdown happens with information between the clinical team and business team. Directions are given and forgotten and information needs to be conveyed, but the business team members are either on the phones or assisting patients. Who does the hygienist or assistant now talk to about Mrs. Brown’s next appointment? The computer should be used for indicating a patient’s arrival to the clinical team. A light system can also be used, as well as wireless walkie-talkies and most importantly, routing slips/forms.
What is a Routing Slip? When I visit an office that is not using routing slips, I know immediately there is a breakdown in communication between the clinical and business team. On behalf of the team, most offices are either not familiar with routing slips, have used them in the past and felt that they were a waste of time, or used them in other offices but did not attempt to implement them in their current office.
The routing slip acts as the sticky note, the clinical notes and the verbalized words on one single piece of paper for each patient, along with the patient’s medical alerts, demographics, insurance and account balance information. In addition, other family members and their recall dates are also listed, along with planned treatment that is not completed and the MOST important piece of information, what needs to be scheduled next and how much time is needed.
Regarding insurance information, wouldn’t it be nice to know in November if your patient still has remaining benefits for the year so you can encourage the patient to schedule for their much-needed crown or root canal? This is considered internal marketing as well as providing a service for your patient, as they will lose those benefit dollars if not used before the end of the year, in most cases. For account balances, it’s important to know if the business team is doing a great job of collecting the money for your hard work. And regarding other family members, you want to know if the entire family is up-to-date on their recall appointments so that if not, a team member can inquire.
Best of all, routing slips allow you to have morning meeting discussions about patients who have planned treatment that has not yet been performed. All your team needs to do is review the routing slips. No recommended treatment is lost in the paperwork or in the chart notes or simply missed due to time.
How to Implement the Routing Slips. Each clinical team member has a routing slip for their patient. The routing slip should already have the treatment that is scheduled for the day indicated. Once the treatment is completed, the doctor/assistant/hygienist simply makes a check next to the treatment indicated, edits the information as necessary and then either circles the next visit from the planned treatment list or writes NV: MOD comp #15 – 6 units.
If the Scheduling Coordinator is free to greet the patient, the clinical team member will reiterate the treatment completed and repeat the treatment that is needed verbally so the patient hears it a third time (from the doctor first and the assistant or hygienist second) to improve case acceptance. If the routing slip is brought to the Scheduling Coordinator and he or she is on the phone with another patient, the clinical member simply slides the routing slip in view of the Scheduling Coordinator so she/he knows exactly what was performed today with any modifications, and what needs to be scheduled next with the appropriate time units.
Incorporate routing slips into your practice and it will improve communications!
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