Convert Emergency Patients to Loyal Patients
Your Scheduling Coordinator, Jane, just took a call from an emergency patient. She made it clear that fitting him in would be a bit of an inconvenience, but she would make it happen. Before hanging up, she warned that he might have to wait once he arrives, and made sure he understood that payment would be due before leaving the practice.
If this is how your team members respond to emergency calls, it’s probably safe to say you don’t convert many emergency patients into loyal patients. Yes, these patients tend to throw off your schedule and create a bit of chaos in your day – but if they leave happy with their experience, they’ll likely come back for another appointment, and they might even refer.
In fact, 80% of all emergency patients who walk into your practice should be converted into a comprehensive exam, according to the industry standard. Just think about what that could mean for practice productivity and your bottom line.
Remember, emergency patients are often scared and in a lot of pain. They don’t have a dental home, and represent a fantastic opportunity to grow your patient base. Many dentists don’t take advantage of this opportunity, though, rushing emergency patients in and out as quickly as possible. These patients rarely come back, after all, so most dentists don’t spend a lot of time educating them or building connections. They simply get them out of pain and send them on their way.
If you make the right changes, many of the emergency patients you treat will want to call your practice their new dental home. Not convinced? Here are a few of the most common mistakes dental teams make with emergency patients, and how to correct them.
There’s no script. Let’s go back to that initial call. Most team members see calls from emergency patients as a disruption. They don’t want to throw off the schedule, and they know these are just one-time patients who don’t do much to help grow the practice. Patients can sense this attitude, and feel like they’re viewed as a nuisance. They accept the appointment because they’re in pain, but they’ve likely already decided they won’t be back.
To make these patients feel more welcome, develop a script that team members can turn to during the initial call. A well thought out script will help them know exactly what to say to put patients at ease. Team members should also adopt a caring tone as they gather the necessary information from these distressed patients.
There’s not enough education. Because emergency patients are a bit of a disruption, many dentists don’t spend a lot of time educating them about their condition or the benefits of routine dental care. So they leave the practice feeling better, but without any more information about how to prevent problems in the future.
I suggest you spend time educating these patients so they understand how they can improve their oral health. Show photos from the intraoral camera as well as x-rays. Let them know what services you offer that can help them achieve optimal oral health. Talk with them about the importance of comprehensive oral exams, then encourage them to schedule before they leave.
There isn’t a plan for emergencies. Part of the reason team members cringe every time an emergency patient calls is because they’re simply not prepared to handle an emergency. They know working these patients in will throw the schedule off, causing extra stress for the entire practice. This becomes a lot easier if you have slots in your schedule specifically for emergency patients.
Another tip? Leave openings for emergency patients who are ready to schedule a comprehensive exam before they leave. You’ll want to schedule them as soon as possible, ideally within a week after the emergency visit.
There’s no follow up. Even if they schedule an exam before they leave, I suggest you follow up with every emergency patient to see how they’re doing. Use this call as an opportunity to thank them for choosing your practice, and address any questions or concerns they might have. But don’t stop there. Send a packet of information via snail-mail filled with information about your practice and the services you provide. Include a handwritten note. Patients will be impressed that you took the time to send a personalized message, and will start feeling that all-important connection to your practice.
Treating emergency patients might make your schedule a little hectic, but if you take the time to provide education and really make them feel at ease, they’ll be much more likely to come back. The emergency might be enough to show them how important proper dental care really is, and you want your practice to be at the top of their list of potential new dental homes. If you make the right changes, it will be.
Next week: Tips to put emergency patients at ease and win their loyalty
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Do Performance Reviews Threaten Your Team Relationships?
Starting the new year with performance reviews? Dreading it? Take a fresh look at your system and consider making some changes.
When giving a performance review to a team member who is in a subordinate position, but who is also instrumental in making your day more pleasant because of their cheery personality, it becomes difficult to give “tough” feedback regarding their weak areas. Perhaps the dental assistant who is agreeable, easy to work with and goes the extra mile for the patient is also the one whose tray isn’t prepared with the correct instruments and supplies and must leave the treatment room several times to retrieve articles that should be there. The issue is that people skills and organizational skills require two different skill sets, both being necessary to orchestrate the perfect day in a dental practice.
If only the always-prepared and always-efficient dental assistant also had a warm and caring personality. Is it possible to have it all in one person? Yes, but it is not always easy to find because different personality traits are necessary to be focused on business tasks versus focus on the social aspects of interpersonal relationships. See
I recall hiring a very efficient dental assistant to work with a dentist who needed someone extremely organized and on top of things. The assistant was brilliant in her position and could do the work of two people, however, the doctor was not happy with her personality. “I wish she was more bubbly and cheerful”, said the dentist. Their disagreements over her personality eventually led her to give notice and look for work elsewhere.
Performance reviews have been part of the dental office “human resources” structure for decades, and for years have been considered reflective of the employee’s true work ethic and accomplishments. In my experience, I find them wanting for a better system of measurement. If work task performance was measured separately from personality and temperament, it would be a fairer assessment.
To truly give an honest performance review, you must be witness to the person performing their job throughout the major part of the day. Hearing key interactions between the person being measured and other team members, and of course with patients, is crucial to a fair assessment of the employee’s interpersonal skills.
I once received a performance review from a dentist who, for a week prior to the review, shadowed me and stood within earshot of my desk to hear what I was saying to patients and how I was answering the phone. That observation was the basis of my review for the last year. Lucky for me it was a particularly good week at the desk and I received accolades and a raise.
Part of the issue here is that dentists in small or medium practices are often the ones giving performance reviews to all staff members, whether they work directly or indirectly with them during any given day. The performance review is expected to be from “the boss” because the boss makes the payroll. However, the practicing dentist or dentists in charge often have little contact with the front desk team and have a weak understanding of what the business team accomplishes during the day.
In many practices, the office manager or administrator is responsible for giving performance reviews. This person must be able to properly measure the performance of each position fairly and equally, and measure the performance and attitude of those that work under her/him in the business area of the practice. In this scenario, the dentists are likely asked to weigh in on attitude and personality, and in what way they observed the quality of work of the person being evaluated.
On the other hand, dental assistants are under the direct supervision of the dentist boss most of the day and their work is much easier to measure, both positively and negatively. The dentist can observe the readiness of the dental assistant and the way the dental assistant interacts with patients and other members of the team.
The intended purpose of a performance review is to “enlighten” employees about what they should be doing better, with the idea being that the boss can give an objective assessment. I don’t believe a boss can simply collect metrics, garner a few opinions, and give a score free of emotion, bias, or other sentiment – yet this is what I have observed for decades as standard protocol.
Giving a review to an employee when you do not have an honest way of measuring their performance can cause bitterness, disconnect and employees who feel they aren’t being assessed fairly by their boss. For help navigating through the maze of Human Resources, call us today and schedule a course in Dental Office Management.
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