Make Online Scheduling Work for Your Practice
Patients come up with many excuses to justify not going to the dentist. Maybe they think treatment is too expensive, or they can’t forget about a negative experience they had in the past. Whatever the reason, you and your team members need to find ways to make their visit as easy and stress-free as possible when they do come in.
This of course includes putting patients at ease from the moment they walk through the door, offering exceptional customer service, and providing education so patients understand just how important it is to maintain their oral health. The focus on alleviating stress associated with going to the dentist should begin before patients even make an appointment.
Offering online scheduling makes it easy for patients to schedule a visit with your practice. They don’t have to worry about calling in only to be placed on hold, or told the team is at lunch and will call them back. These situations lead to frustration, with many patients hanging up before they talk to someone about scheduling – costing your practice money.
Online scheduling offers many benefits for your patients and practice, and it is something I suggest you consider implementing. Here are just a few of those benefits, and advice on how to make an online scheduling system work for your practice.
It gives you access to patients who are too busy to call. There’s no question many of your patients lead busy lives. Between work and family commitments, they don’t have a lot of time to make phone calls during the day, so they don’t. When they need to schedule an appointment, they prefer to do so online, whether it’s from their smartphone, tablet or home computer.
According to Zocdoc, an online scheduling tool for the medical profession, 45% of appointments booked through this system come in after business hours, with many patients seeing a doctor within 24 hours after making an appointment request. I’m not saying implementing online scheduling will lead to a 45% increase in patient visits (though that sure would be nice!) but it does give you the opportunity to reach patients who just don’t have time to call during the day.
It makes your employees happy. Team members would rather not have to manage phone calls all day long. Constantly ringing phones can be stressful and takes them away from other tasks that are beneficial to the practice.
While team members should still be trained to properly answer phones and have access to detailed scripts for certain situations, using online scheduling will reduce the number of appointment-related calls coming in. Team members will have more time to focus on patients who are physically in the practice – creating an exceptional experience that will make those patients want to call your practice their dental home.
It shows your practice is modern. Patients expect to be able to make and confirm appointments online or via text. If your only option is a phone call, they might think your practice is out of date.
It makes team members more efficient. This is especially true if your online scheduling system is synced with your practice management system. There is less data entry required, again freeing up team members to focus on other revenue-generating tasks.
How It Works
In general, you’ll want patients to be able to book appointments from your website or social media profiles. The booking system will give you a practice-specific URL that includes information about your practice and has the ability to schedule appointments. You won’t have to worry about designing the website or adding scheduling functionality; the hosting company handles that. You just need to maintain your profile with current information such as hours, services and accepted insurance plans.
When the system syncs with your practice management software, patients will be able to see which appointment times are available and choose what works best for them. Because both systems are up-to-date, you won’t have to worry about patients selecting times that are no longer available. When that happens, someone from the practice will need to follow up with patients so they can select another time, which defeats the purpose of online scheduling.
Some solutions can read your schedule, but can’t add appointments. That means once the appointment is confirmed through the booking system, someone will have to go in and manually enter it into your practice management software. Through other systems, patients can only email the practice to request times. If none are available, someone again must reach out to find a time that works. Not ideal, but still more convenient than scheduling every appointment via telephone.
A Practice Builder
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Don’t Minimize Perio!
A common complaint I hear from hygienists is that dentists don’t always back them up concerning the seriousness of a patient’s periodontal disease. They tell me this can be very disappointing when they have taken pains to set the stage for moving a patient from “standard cleanings” to scaling and root planing. It often seems to go like this:
“Mr. Patient” arrives for his recall appointment. During his perio assessment, “Emily the Hygienist” notices that he has developed numerous pockets between 4 and 5 mm. Mr. Patient is 48 years old, in generally good health, and has been a patient of the office for five years. During that time, he has received only prophylaxis on a 6-month schedule.
Emily knows that Mr. Patient will likely be resistant to changing the schedule of his recall visits or the treatment he receives at those appointments. She also knows that Mr. Patient’s oral condition will likely respond well to an early intervention, preventing a periodontal situation from getting worse. She delicately explains her concerns to Mr. Patient during the course of his visit.
Emily: Mr. Patient, I know you have been our patient for years, but today I notice that conditions in your mouth are changing. Where you had healthy gum and bone around your teeth in the past, I am noticing that some inflammation and tissue infection is present.
Mr. Patient: Infection! You’re telling me I have an infection?
Emily: I don’t like being the bearer of bad news, but you do have an infection and inflammation around some of your teeth. I can tell by the appearance of your gums and also the readings from my periodontal probe. You remember that my probe is like a little ruler that can measure around your teeth.
Mr. Patient: How did this happen? I brush my teeth every day and I come in for cleanings every six months.
Emily: Well, just like a person can develop high blood pressure or high cholesterol when he previously did not have these conditions, a person can develop gum and bone disease, which we call periodontal disease, when he previously did not have that problem. We can control this disease, but we will need to approach your care differently than we have in the past.
Mr. Patient: What can you do?
Emily: It is really a combination of what we can do here and what you can do at home. I am going to recommend that you come back to see me for two more visits. During those appointments I will be getting your gums numb with anesthetic so you will be comfortable, and then using my ultrasonic and hand instruments to remove all hard and soft deposits under your gums. We call this procedure “scaling and root planing”.
Soft plaque, which is like super glue and provides an excellent medium for bacteria, will be removed. I will also remove the hard calculus called tartar, which is rough and encourages bacterial growth as well. When these bacteria, which are the sources of your infection, are taken away, the inflammation around the teeth will go away as well.
Inflammation is one of the ways our bodies fight infection. It is a tool of the immune system. If mouth bacteria are allowed to keep growing, the immune system can become overwhelmed. Inflammation persists, but the body cannot rid itself of the “germs”. My scaling and root planing gets the bacterial levels down to where your own home-care can keep them from getting out of control. The infection is removed, inflammation is reduced, and you are healthy again.
Mr. Patient: What happens after you are finished?
Emily: I am going to give you a few more tools to use at home when you clean around your teeth and I will see you three to four times a year for maintenance. You actually won’t be coming for “cleanings” anymore – you will be receiving periodontal maintenance. I have many patients on this type of schedule and the results are often very good.
Mr. Patient: Well, I am not too happy to have to do this, but let’s get started.
Dr. Dentist enters the treatment room. Emily tells her what she and Mr. Patient have been discussing. Dr. Dentist begins her exam, looks at the perio chart, and says: Well, 4 and 5 mm pockets are not so bad. Let’s just go ahead and have Mr. Patient come for cleanings a little more often.
Mr. Patient looks at Emily and says: Well, that sounds good to me.
While variations in recommendations for which conditions require perio scaling and root planing are not uncommon, it is imperative that the dentist and hygienist agree on when SRPs are needed. Perio conditions, caught early, may be resolved with early treatment. It is not helpful for patient care if the dentist and hygienist are not on the same page. It is also not good for the office image if one professional is saying one thing, while another is saying something different. In addition, perio treatment is diagnosed and treated in successful practices. A hygiene department should be diagnosing and treating at least one-fourth to one-third perio in its practice mix. The hygienist should not be providing only prophies.
Dentists, please don’t minimize perio treatment. Get with your hygienists to be sure that perio identified is perio treated.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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