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Do You Know What Ignoring Recall Is Doing to Your Practice?
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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Even though focusing on the recall system can bring a lot of money into a practice, most dentists just don’t do it. Why? They convince themselves that snail-mailing cheesy postcards to their patients or tasking their hygienists with dialing for dollars when they aren’t busy is enough to get past due patients back into the practice. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

If you want to grow your practice (and of course you do), giving your recall system some love and attention is one of the fastest ways to do it. A healthy recall system leads to better patient retention numbers, increased practice production and a more robust bottom line.

Simply put, if you’re ignoring recall it’s hurting your practice. Here’s how:

You’re losing patients. Successful practices have a strong base of loyal patients who accept treatment and refer. In fact, patient retention rates should be between 85-95%, according to the industry standard. If yours is less, it’s costing you money.

Investing in your recall system can help boost patient retention numbers and practice revenues. I suggest you start by hiring a Patient Coordinator. Task this team member with calling a certain number of past due patients every day and getting them back on the schedule. Your Patient Coordinator should be trained in sales and have access to well thought-out scripts and the most up-to-date patient information.

Dentistry isn’t always a priority for patients. Taking the time to call and remind them why it should be will help change that, making them more likely to schedule a visit with your practice.

You’re not being referred. If patient retention rates are down, you’re not getting referred as much as you could be – and you’re missing out on a free, effective way to grow your patient base. Remember, patients are more likely to stay loyal and refer when they feel a connection to your practice. Reaching out to educate patients about the importance of maintaining their oral health and getting them back on the schedule shows that you care, which goes a long way in developing a strong connection.

Broken appointments are wreaking havoc on your schedule. This is a problem in many of the practices that contact me for help. They deal with multiple broken appointments a week, sending their schedule into chaos and eating into their bottom line. Most dentists don’t realize this, but if last-minute cancellations and no-shows are the norm in a practice, it’s a sure sign the recall system is broken.

Part of the problem comes from relying on pre-appointing. While this is a system many dentists have followed for years, it just isn’t an effective way to manage the schedule. Patients commit to an appointment six months in advance, only to forget or cancel at the last minute because they have a conflict with work or a family obligation.

Pre-appointing also gives the illusion your schedule is full when it really isn’t. Not only does that make it difficult for patients who are ready for treatment to see the doctor, it also gives you no reason to work the recall system – until of course someone cancels and your Scheduling Coordinator is left scrambling to fill the slot.

So what’s the solution? Instead of relying on pre-appointing alone, consider contacting some patients two to three weeks before they’re due to schedule their recall appointment. I suggest offering this option to patients who are known to flake out on their appointment times. They’ll be more likely to know what their schedule looks like, helping you to reduce broken appointments and the stress they cause. 

Production is lackluster. If your practice is dealing with low patient retention rates and openings in the schedule caused by broken appointments, I can pretty much guarantee you’re falling short of daily production goals more often than you’re reaching them. This is not only frustrating, it’s also costing your practice money. Reenergizing your recall system will get more patients in the chair, helping you get production back to where it should be.

Team morale is down. When patients aren’t scheduling treatment and broken appointments are part of the routine, the work day can get pretty stressful for your team members. Morale becomes low, and that could lead to conflict among team members and even turnover.

Get team members involved in fixing the recall system and let them know how valuable their contributions are to the practice. Once you start seeing results in the form of higher patient retention numbers and increased production, team morale will also start to rise.

Many dentists don’t put much thought into recall, but ignoring this critical system will only hurt your practice. Focus on revamping recall and you’ll soon see an increase in patient retention, practice production and your bottom line.

Next week: Take control of recall with these 3 tips

For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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Dr. James Anderson
eAssist Dental Solutions
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Talking Treatment Acceptance with your Patients
By Dr. James Anderson

As a dentist, I treat my patients like family and want them to have the best care available. As a businessman, I am concerned about how many of my patients choose treatment in my practice or decline it, and why.

Like many dentists, I struggle with the “emotional” side of treatment presentations. How do you know if you are being fair when diagnosing treatment? Dentists are not fortune tellers, but we have a good sense of knowing when a tooth has had enough and needs to be restored. Patients, on the other hand, may think we need to pay our electric bill or buy a new Mercedes. After all, there may not be pain or any other acute symptoms that call for action on their part. If the pain in the pocketbook is greater than the pain in the mouth – we know which one wins.

Some dentists want to play it safe with underdiagnosed treatment options that could shortly play out to be major treatment. “We are going to try and put a filling in this tooth, but from what I can see, it will most likely need a crown.” 

Let’s face it, we have the evidence to know it is better to be proactive and solve a looming problem. Many patients are willing to take the risk and “wait till it breaks” before acting, mostly due to the cost involved. Realistically, their financial situation won’t change in that short amount of time. Justifiably, it makes sense to wait until it breaks because then you must take care of it immediately. But patients must know the risks of now versus later.

When there is informed consent, the patient is saying they are willing to take the risks. You can remind them that waiting for pain is not the best course of action and may happen when they least expect it, such as in the middle of the ocean on “the cruise of a lifetime.” 

Scare tactics are not always appreciated, but it doesn’t hurt to drop the “root canal” bomb during the diagnosis and treatment planning if the evidence presents itself. Mentioning that “there could be complications when delaying treatment” often opens a line of communication about “what kind of complication are we speaking of?”
When patients ask me how long they have until the tooth needs a root canal, I answer with “how long can you drive on a bald tire?”

We’ve all heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I suspect that patients who postpone critical dental care are the same people that postpone maintenance for their car and wait for the “engine light” to come on.

How often a patient returns to your practice determines their level of commitment to care. If the treatment plan has multiple teeth, prioritizing and doing the worst first helps them to build confidence in your care delivery system. Do one tooth every six months and give an estimated time frame of proposed dental work. Finding a combination of emotional drivers that are not too aggressive but not to lax or laissez faire is a fine balance.

Patients should always be told to maintain their regular examinations and professional cleaning. Don’t leave it up to the patient to respond as they should; follow-up on all patients who are late in appointing for hygiene.

Treatment acceptance is measurable with today’s dental software. Many practices boast of an 85 to 95% acceptance rate, but that is for a conservative treatment plan. If you are weak in offering cosmetic, elective, or services not covered by insurance you will have a higher acceptance rate. When you or your Treatment Coordinator present implants versus fixed bridges or partials, the challenge lies in patients seeing the long-term health value and improved function.

Having extra time to discuss treatment with patients is an unexpected value that outsourcing to eAssist Dental Billing (www.dentalbilling.com) has offered my Treatment Coordinator. eAssist does the insurance verification, posts insurance payments, and follows up on all denied and slow-to-pay claims, freeing my Treatment Coordinator to spend more time explaining treatment options to patients.

James V. Anderson DMD is a practicing dentist in Syracuse, Utah. He has built nine dental practices in the last decade and is the CEO/Founder of eAssist Dental Solutions, the largest national dental insurance billing company (www.dentalbilling.com) in the U.S.

He can be reached at james.anderson@eassist.me

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