Communication Tips for Different Patient Types

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine Benes notices a negative comment on her medical chart and then proceeds to go to incredible lengths to have the comments removed? She becomes increasingly disruptive and each new doctor adds another line in the chart about how ‘difficult’ she is which of course incites more disruptive behaviour. It’s a very funny episode but dealing with problematic patient behaviour is no laughing matter.

Video clip from the Seinfeld episode

Any dental practitioner will tell you that patients are the lifeblood of their dental clinic, but many will also share stories about their most ‘difficult’ encounters with patients – from the overly demanding, to the downright confused.

Patients are essential to any dental practice and while they pay the bills and also allow you to grow your practice, patient management can be a challenge. I’ve put together a list of some of the most common types of ‘difficult’ patient behaviour and ways that you and your staff can deal with situations as they arise.

patientinpain

1. The Confused Patient

Confused patients can be frustrating to deal with because they simply don’t know what they want or can’t make a decision. They often have only half the information or will come with false assumptions. These patients will ask lots of questions but are unlikely to commit to your service regardless of the quality.

How to Help

Confused patients can take a lot of your time and energy so it’s wise to pinpoint their highest priority problem and figure out how you can best help them. When you’re able to uncover to the actual issue at hand it makes offering the right service easier.

Remind the patient that they came to you for a reason and you are here to help. Ensure that they understand the treatment options presented and the consequences of not going ahead with treatment. Conclude by telling the patient that you respect their decision whatever it may turn out to be.

2. The Non-compliant Patient

Much has been written on the topic of patient compliance in dentistry and patients who refuse to follow a dental healthcare provider’s recommendations can be a real challenge to work with. While on one hand they are simply refusing to listen (which makes treating them over the long haul much more difficult), on the other hand dental clinicians may also start to unfairly blame themselves for not communicating effectively.

What Are Your Options?

Compassion goes a long way, and if you frame the problem as a desire on the part of your dental practice to help this patient, they will likely come around. But if a patient’s non-compliance is interfering with your job as a dental health care provider it may be time to ask them to look for another practice.

This option should definitely be considered a last resort but it might be necessary if patients are simply not following your oral health recommendations.

3. The Ill-tempered Patient

Patients with chronic oral health problems can often bring an irritable, frustrated or even abusive demeanour when they come in for treatments. They want to blame someone for their ongoing issues so they might lash out. No one wants to pay for pain, and for some, this is how they view their trip to the dentist’s chair.

How Your Dental Team Can Help Fix the Problem

The best thing oral healthcare providers can do is empathize with the patient while reminding them that treatment will eventually make things more tolerable. A steady, measured and compassionate tone will help calm irate patients. Remain aware of how far vocal tone and facial expressions go toward calming negative emotions in others.

4. The Demanding Patient

It’s important not to confuse a demanding patient with an ill-tempered or abusive one. A demanding patient is simply frustrated because the reality of the situation differs from what they imagined. Demanding patients will often threaten to leave (some never to return!) and this threat must be taken seriously. Demanding patients might be insecure, or simply expect too much of others.

Go the Extra Mile

When it comes to demanding patients, do your best to accommodate their needs and expectations. To some of your staff it might feel as if you’re caving into unfair demands but there is a way to give in without giving too much up. Ask the patient whether there is something they are expecting from their experience that has not been accommodated. Then you have something to work with – you can either meet the expectation or suggest an alternative solution.

Patience pays off here and it’s important not to respond to emotional outbursts. Say no if you have to but make sure these patients feel you’ve done your best.

Anticipate and Alleviate Negative Attitudes

Ignoring disruptive or disrespectful behaviour can derail any practice – grinding everything to a halt. But if your staff understands how to address inappropriate behaviour, before it escalates, most patients will calm down and even apologize for their outbursts. I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs and it bears repeating that customer service training will help your staff handle a range of situations – with professionalism.

Creating a sense of calm at every stage of the visit also helps. You can invest in improving your waiting room. When patients check in they should be greeted by a friendly member of the staff. If you’re behind schedule make sure someone acknowledges this fact. It never hurts to apologize for minor inconveniences. Finally, at the end of the visit, thank them for their business while setting their next appointment.

While you’ll never have to deal with Elaine Benes, if you encounter any of the above ‘difficult’ patient behaviours, use ABELDent’s tips to help keep your practice running smoothly.

Patient Satisfaction by the Numbers

Have you ever sat in a waiting room tapping your fingers, hoping each time the Nurse appears that your name will be called? Definitely been there, definitely hoped that.

Have you ever noticed that even as a Doctor or Practice Manager yourself, your level of overall satisfaction decreases in direct proportion to your wait time? That after around 10 minutes, your mind starts to calculate the cost of your wasted time? Do you start to issue imaginary invoices to the provider for your own time? I’ve done that as well.

According to recent research conducted by Software Advice, the average wait time in a dental office is 13.5 minutes. Of the over 5,000 patients surveyed, 97% reported frustration with the time they were expected to wait for a pre-booked appointment.

Further, the study found a real co-relation between wait times and patient satisfaction. When patients have to wait for the Hygienist they are more likely to be dissatisfied, but when the provider is earlier than expected patients are both more satisfied and more likely to follow the treatment plan.

Other than mastering the arts of accurate scheduling, streamlined patient processing and efficient clinical work, there is not a lot you can do to avoid delays. Some patients will always be late. Others may take longer than anticipated to treat. Emergencies, cancellations, staff absences… your days rarely unfold exactly as planned.

So while you cannot always control wait times, what you can work on is altering your patients’ perception of the length of their wait. Here are a few suggestions that might help you do that:

  • Create a pleasant atmosphere with comfortable seating.
  • Music and magazines have always been standard. Adding a TV monitor can have a big impact on patient entertainment.
  • Offering complimentary beverages is always appreciated. Bottled water is a great option: simple, refreshing and healthy.
  • Most patients today will keep themselves occupied with their mobile devices. So make sure you offer WiFi – independent of your practice’s access for security purposes – and clearly post login information.
  • Acknowledge patients upon arrival.
  • Communicate wait times whenever possible. 80% of patients say they would feel less frustrated if they were told expected wait times in advance.
  • Manage wait times carefully. Checking back, asking questions, offering an update will make the time seem to have passed more quickly. Rely on practice management software that tracks appointment status, wait times and patient alerts to draw your team’s attention so they can take immediate action to reduce the negative impact of waiting.
  • Use your portal to advise patients via text of any delay expected to exceed 15 minutes.
  • Also use your portal to allow patients to pre-populate and update their personal information and health histories. They will appreciate that you have created a system to help reduce their wait times.
  • Maximize the capabilities of your software to use electronic forms, have patient information at your fingertips and capture real-time data throughout the appointment.
  • Regularly analyze your data to identify and address trends to reduce wait times. Good practice management software tracks the entire patient visit from arrival to departure, giving you the opportunity to learn from recurring issues and specific bottleneck situations.

For the most part, we have all come to expect some degree of wait time when visiting a Dentist or Doctor. You can differentiate your practice by minimizing the impact of the wait, to the delight and surprise of your patients.

 

Satisfied Patients Make Everybody Happy

A few common denominators propel the success of every business:

  • Developing and sticking to a meaningful Unique Value Proposition;
  • Having the right people focus on the right things at the right time;
  • Delivering a customer experience, product or service that is consistent, sustainable and of the highest possible quality.

These are just three basic principles that drive long-term viability and profitability, and they apply as much to managing a dental practice as to any other enterprise. Today’s blog is about end-user impressions – what your patients perceive, experience and remember – and the make-or-break impact they can have on your practice.

Beyond clinical excellence and value-based pricing, what is likely to influence positive patient impressions and drive repeat business? It really comes down to effective communication, smooth operations, disciplined follow up, and consistent service delivery. As part of ABELDent’s Practice Management By Objectives™ methodology, we developed a series of relevant KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – to help you assess your status and guide your progress in these areas. You can easily extrapolate the data from within your existing ABEL software database.

Here are six quantifiable measures that will help you zero in on areas of opportunity:

Patient Satisfaction KPI Chart.png

If you find your own numbers falling short of industry benchmarks, you may want to ponder a few questions:

  • What techniques has your team mastered to build patient satisfaction?
    See the section Dental Patient Retention… What’s it worth to you? in
    Through the Looking Glass: What Your Patients See
  • Is the team confident in asking for referrals? Do they look and listen for triggers?
  • Do you have defined time requirements for each procedure?
  • Are you using a patient kiosk for check in and follow-through?
  • Have you implemented doctor/chair time scheduling?
  • Are you and your team trained in dealing effectively with complaints? Who is empowered to ‘make it right’?
  • Have you established reasonable and realistic patient expectations? Do you provide a new patient welcome kit with written office policies?
  • Do you consistently source new supplies and/or treatment techniques to improve productivity and the patient experience?
  • Do you maximize available technology?

Overall patient satisfaction should be Job One on everyone’s agenda. Staff must be trained and continuously reminded to use empathy in understanding the patient experience. Engagement, loyalty and free-flowing referrals stem from positive patient perceptions.

This group of KPIs is just one of the categories of the strategic practice management we champion. I invite you to continue this conversation by attending one of our webinars or by reaching out to a member of our team at any time.

Build Case Acceptance from within your dental practice data. What’s sitting in your database?

I met a friend for dinner over the holidays. One of those people who go back forever and with whom, within five minutes, you’re able to pick up exactly where you left off. By the time our entrées arrived, she had grimaced in pain three times. It turned out she had an impacted wisdom tooth. It hurt “only when she chewed” and had caused a few infections.

In response to my obvious question, she didn’t really know what she was waiting for to get it extracted. She simply had not got around to it – it was on a long list of things to do. Her dentist had referred her to an oral surgeon well over a year ago and neither had ever followed up. Weeks turned into month, as they tend to do.

I was not there to judge or lecture, but I couldn’t help but wonder why both practitioners would have let this drop. Are their practices so successful that they don’t need the business? Or are their workflows simply not set up to follow through with all their treatment plans? Yes, the patient is an adult and thus responsible for her own care, but even she admitted that a simple email or phone call was all it would take to stop her procrastination.

So that’s pretty low-hanging fruit. How many such cases might you have tucked away in what we like to call your ‘million-dollar filing cabinet‘? With ABELDent’s Treatment Manager, the data is at your fingertips. Combining it with email or text alerts through the patient portal makes this kind of follow-up a breeze and can really bolster case acceptance. Maybe it’s time your team took a look, and started a New Year’s revolution against stale-dated treatment recommendations.

In with the new… Patients

For many, fall is a time of great change and renewed beginnings. With that in mind, we turn our focus to business-building strategies: attracting new patients and retaining existing ones within your practice. Today’s complimentary Point-of-View Paper: “Through the Looking Glass: What Your Patients See” is chock full of techniques, tips and advice to help position your practice for success.

Things every dental practice receptionist needs to know: Sometimes it’s okay to break the rules

Every new patient starts out as a stranger. So we need to set aside the rule our parents taught us: it is okay – even wise – to talk to strangers.

How are new callers to your practice treated? Do they receive a warm, welcoming greeting and patient, empathetic service… or are they put on hold and made to feel as though they’re interrupting someone’s too-busy day?

Because we rarely get a second chance to make a first impression, our front line staff must be equipped, trained and coached to be a one-person welcoming committee. Consider these techniques:

1. Put a Smile in your Voice
One of our consultants told me that many years ago, as Supervisor of a Hotline Centre with a major insurance company, she had this little slogan affixed to every telephone handset. Corny as it may sound, a caller can tell when you are smiling. Good advice does not go out of style.

2. Perfect the Art of Listening
I frequently quote this line from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: “Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating”. Listening carefully to your callers’ introductory words will guide the conversation and help you set a positive tone from the outset.

3. You’ve Got Mail!
An email should be treated like a phone call: respond immediately! Train your staff to consider incoming patient and prospect email as urgent. “Parking” for later action is a bad habit. Instead, surprise an emailer with immediate conversation. Q and A Volleyball is another bad habit. Offer your earliest appointment with your first response: “We could see you as early as Tuesday at 10:00 am. Could that work for you?”

4. Be Prepared with a Front Line FAQ
Good service providers are definitely friendly. As important, though, is knowledge and the ability to accurately answer Frequently Asked Questions. A caller’s first question is usually the deal breaker: How soon can you see me? Are you good with children? Can you direct-bill my insurance company? What’s the earliest/latest appointment possible?

Beyond the first questions, staff should be able to recognize common symptoms, ask relevant questions to fully understand the client’s issue, confidently explain basic procedures, describe your services, and discuss insurance details.

5. Aim to Book an Appointment On the Spot
Like the old saying goes… Strike while the iron is hot! Your goal should be to get an appointment scheduled. Offering an appointment date that falls within 5 days increases the chance of getting the caller to join your practice.

Then, make the data collection process foolproof by creating and using a checklist: name, address and phone number; email address including permission to use it; reason for call/services of interest; preferred appointment times. (Better yet, take advantage of the new patient booking feature built into ABELDent!)

It is good practice to have a back-up available to manage callers if reception is busy with patients. Always ask permission to put someone on hold and then check back quickly. If the caller cannot be immediately served, promise to call back and do so as soon as possible. Sitting on hold or waiting through transfers can feel like forever to a caller and lead to a hang-up.

Some people may advise that you ask the prospect how they found you. That is definitely good information to have, as it helps you measure and refine your marketing efforts. But do remember that this detail is for your benefit, not theirs. Respect that the caller’s time may be limited; you can always probe later.

When an appointment is scheduled, close the call by telling the caller that “the team is looking forward to meeting you”.

6. Keep Track of your Callers
If the caller is not ready to schedule right away, by offering an appointment you have opened the door to ask for their contact information and permission to stay in touch.

Maintain a database of these prospects. Converting your strangers into patients may require a few calls or emails, maybe even a heads-up when you are offering any specials to your patient base. We all need reminders – some more than others.

The key is to drive home the importance of genuinely welcoming callers, showing interest, offering an immediate appointment and building relationships. I can still hear the words of a wise supervisor from early in my career: “A ringing telephone is not interrupting your work. It is your work.”

Don’t be a stranger.

The Power of Word-of-Mouth among Patients: Case in Point

We received an unusual request the other day.

A man called our office to ask if we wouldn’t mind contacting his dentist for him. His problem: Although he was already receiving appointment reminders via email, he wanted to be able to book his appointments online too. “My wife just goes online to arrange hers,” he explained, “and she loves it. It’s so convenient!”

On the surface, the answer seemed simple: Do whatever your wife did to sign up. But we suspected the situation might be a tad more complex. With further probing, we found out that the man and his wife actually go to different dental offices. We then discovered that both dentists run ABELDent, and both use portal.

But where the wife’s dentist appeared to be making use of the full gamut of portal capabilities, including patient booking, we wondered if the other may have only implemented the email reminder function.

The caller hoped that we might have the influence to convince his dentist to start using the online booking feature. We were happy to at least pass along his feedback with a phone call to the dentist. We know how easy it is to put things off – any change can take a bit of time and effort. So a gentle reminder of the benefits can often help (that’s what usually works for me!).
Sometimes, though, a quick call to our customer can reveal that an office is not even aware of the full potential of their portal. It can be a perfect opportunity to get them up to speed with current capabilities and primed for upcoming features like e-statements and patient feedback surveys.

In this case, it was great to learn that the man’s dentist had already booked the training and would be implementing the new function within days. The patient was pleased to hear the news!

For me, this drives home the fact that patients are becoming more and more aware of evolving technology and communication options. It shows that they are willing to go out of their way for the convenience it can bring. And that, at the end of the day… people talk.