3 Reasons Emergency Patients Don’t Return
Dealing with a dental emergency is never easy, whether you’re the patient experiencing the problem or the dentist trying to fix it. These patients are often scared and in pain with nowhere to turn. For whatever reason they don’t have a dental home, and when they call your practice they’re hoping to find someone who understands their concerns and who can help. Of course you do your best to get them out of pain as quickly as possible, but you know fitting an emergency patient in will send your practice and your schedule into chaos. And the worst part? Most of these patients never return.
But the truth is, they should return. According to the industry standard, 80% of all emergency patients you treat should be converted into a comprehensive exam. Just think about what that would do for your practice in terms of growing your patient base, your production numbers and your bottom line. Emergency patients represent a huge opportunity, but it’s an opportunity many dental practices aren’t taking advantage of.
If you want emergency patients to become loyal patients, you have to figure out why they’re not coming back. Here are three reasons you never see emergency patients again and how to make these patients want to call your practice their dental home.
1. They feel like they’re bothering you. Remember, when emergency patients call to see if you can squeeze them in, they’re often in panic mode. They’re looking for comfort and reassurance that you can alleviate their pain as soon as possible. They don’t receive that comfort if it’s obvious the person answering the phone is annoyed by their call.
If the team member who answers sighs after the patient explains the situation and says something like “we’re very busy but we’ll try to get you in” and then follows that up by reminding the patient that payment is due at the time of treatment, that doesn’t exactly send a welcoming message. So even if the emergency prompts the patient to find a new dental home, chances are it won’t be yours.
To avoid this situation, make sure team members understand how important emergency patients are and the opportunity they represent. Develop scripts so team members know exactly what to say to emergency patients to put them at ease during that initial call.
2. They just don’t feel comfortable. Emergency patients are more nervous than most, which is why it’s so important for team members to do what they can to put them at ease and give them extra attention. Train team members to greet these scared patients with a friendly smile as soon as they walk through the door. If it’s clear they’re in a lot of discomfort, offer to help them fill out the necessary forms in a quiet consultation room. Reassure them they’re in good hands and the doctor will do his or her best to alleviate their pain.
These small gestures will go a long way in putting emergency patients at ease, which will not only make them more likely to schedule that comprehensive exam before they go, it will make them more likely to talk your practice up to family and friends.
3. There’s not enough education. Most dentists want to get emergency patients in and out as quickly as possible. So while they do their part to alleviate their pain, they don’t spend much time educating them on the importance of maintaining their oral health. When treating emergency patients, start building a rapport. Ask them about their oral health goals and find out why they don’t have a dental home. Tailor your education to address their fears and let them know about the services you provide that can help keep their mouths healthy. Educated patients are more likely to return for follow-up care, especially if they feel a connection to your practice.
Treating emergency patients doesn’t have to bring stress to your day. If you plan for them and train your team members to see these patients as the opportunity they are, emergency patients can be a huge source of practice growth.
Next week: How to win emergency patients over
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Scheduling for All the Wrong Reasons
Front Office Training Case #3102
Dr. “Al” (names have been changed) enrolled his two front office staff in the Front Office Business Training primarily to teach them how to schedule for his practice. “My schedule is a roller coaster ride. We are up one day and down the next, one day nothing but emergencies and write-ins, the next big cases back-to-back, and neither of my front desk team members take responsibility for the results. I am hoping this course will give them the necessary knowledge about scheduling to eliminate the chaos.”
When the two ladies showed up for training, both were perplexed and felt the training was unnecessary. Both had more than ten years working in dental practices and said they knew everything they needed to do their jobs. “Thelma” was the appointed office manager and “Louise” was her assistant. Neither one had a written job description.
“Keep the doctor busy at the chair and you will keep him out of your hair!” said Thelma. “I never hear from Dr. Al. If I keep him busy he doesn’t have a moment to come to the desk and ask questions. I never hear the doctor complain so I will keep doing what I do.” Louise said defensively.
Course participants are asked to bring certain reports to help customize their learning experience. One of those reports is a week of schedules from the software to analyze the flow of people and materials throughout each day. The dental software program was Eaglesoft so it was easy to see what was scheduled, for how long and in what category (different colors indicate whether high production or other). Eaglesoft (as well as many other software programs) also tracks production goal numbers for each day and indicates whether you are to goal, over or under.
The schedule was not planned to meet the production goal. Setting a production goal involves choosing the right mix of services for each day to achieve a number that will pay the overhead and achieve a profit. There was an average of three emergencies a day and Thelma and Louise just put them in wherever there was a block of time, whether it really worked or not. An emergency could turn out to be crown prep or a root canal, but they felt that was up to the doctor, not to them.
Emergencies were not only derailing their day, but also the way the schedule was planned. Services were being typed in and were not pulled from existing treatment plans. For instance, a new patient was written in as new patient exam, x-rays and cleaning if time. The production for this appointment was not showing up on the schedule production calculations because it wasn’t connected to a code and a fee. When the procedures were posted it was from a walkout in the clinical area. The same was true with emergency appointments. It was next to impossible to get an accurate reading of what production was scheduled for the day and whether goal was being met.
After training Thelma and Louise in proper scheduling for the Eaglesoft program, they could see what was scheduled and what the production was for the day. Scheduling the correct way also helped to eliminate errors in posting services and errors in creating clean insurance claims.
As far as scheduling emergencies, it was decided that the front office team needed to consult with the clinical team as to the best place for emergencies in the schedule. We determined that the morning huddle was the best place to discuss this, prior to the day beginning.
We also created new job descriptions for Thelma and Louise, to make sure all tasks were being done and that someone was accountable. Thelma took the position of making sure the schedule was productive and ensuring there were financial arrangements and written treatment plans for each patient. Louise would be accountable for answering the phone, scheduling patients, entering the correct data in the appointment notes and entering all data in the patient’s charts and creating insurance claims.
Being busy at the chair should never be a reason to not communicate with your business team. Your office manager or business coordinator should view communicating with you as a positive, not a negative, and should always feel they can come to you if there are questions or issues affecting the practice.
Being productive will mean you may not see your business team very much, so schedule a lunch meeting once a month or have a short meeting once a week to discuss the business and improve communication.
Want to learn more about what your front office team is capable of once they have been professionally trained? Call McKenzie Management today at 877-777-6151 and schedule a Front Office Training Course for your office.
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