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.

Patient Retention: What’s it worth to you?

In any industry, repeat business is a fundamental game-changer. Loyalty has a price tag. In a dental practice it looks something like this:

I have a toothache and come in to your office for a first appointment. Let’s say it costs $200 to treat. You fix my immediate problem – thank you very much – and I’m on my way. I’m in a hurry so I’ll call you to book my next visit… if I think about it.

Or, I could schedule a follow-up exam, after which I receive a comprehensive treatment plan with options and an explanation of the benefits of ongoing care. I then make an appointment for my husband who has also slipped into an irregular pattern of treatment. Then appointments for my 2 children. We all follow a 6-month check-up cycle for 5 years, with a filling or two along the way and discretionary services such as teeth whitening or sports mouth guards.

I’ve gone from one-time revenue of a few hundred dollars to around $10,000, and that’s before any crowns, bridges, orthodontics, implants, and other high-value treatments that we might need.

Think of it another way – how much does it cost your practice to retain an existing patient? For most, the cost to get them into your waiting room is the time it takes to make a phone call – or better, an automated email or text message. Even less if a patient books before they leave or calls you for their regular checkups.

Now consider marketing initiatives for new patients: there is a lot of strategy-planning-execution time and expense to take into account. The ROI can make it a no-brainer, when done well, but it’s still an expense. I’ll talk more about marketing for new patients in a future post.

A team focus on patient retention is simply smart business. Now I’m not saying that we should regard every patient as if they had a dollar sign etched on their forehead, but it’s a fact: The more loyal a patient is to your practice, the more valuable they become to your business. So what’s the secret to patient retention?

If I had to boil it down to one thing, clinical expertise aside, I would paraphrase one of my favourite poets, the late Maya Angelou:

People may not remember exactly what you said; they may forget what you did. But they will always remember how you made them feel.

  • Do your patients feel welcome, respected?
  • Are they attended to promptly, and in a friendly way?
  • Are parents with babies and toddlers given TLC – and maybe a bit of a break?
  • Is your environment calm?
  • Does the team exude confidence and control?
  • Are they discreet with patient information and discussions?
  • Is the team patient when answering questions or dealing with anxiety?
  • Do you communicate with your patients off-cycle through patient portal, emails and/or social media?

On the surface, these things may seem superficial and, well, even obvious. But the busier we get, the more likely we are to bypass the small niceties. With time, patients will forget the needles and the drilling, but we will remember the little things like being recognized, perceiving VIP treatment and personal attention and being treated like a valued customer.

Choosing the Right Dental Software

When it comes to dental software, there are many options on the market today. And so many features and functions to consider! The solution you ultimately select can have a dramatic impact on the success of your business – not just today but for the life of your practice. Here’s some food for thought: Choosing the Right Dental Software for Your Practice

Landline Ho? A Dental Practice needs to keep track of their patients

What’s in your future, matey? Are you considering letting go of your longstanding, faithful landline in favour of mobile? Perhaps not your dental practice landline, but what about home line? And your patients?

Each person in my home has our own mobile device; the landline rarely rings any more. When it does, nobody jumps to answer it. We’re pretty blasé about election polls and free cruises. So I’ve been asking around and learning that it’s becoming a common dilemma: a $600-a-year question.

And then I read the CRTC 2015 Communication Monitoring Report released last week. The trend is definitely budding: between 2011 and 2013, landline usage has fallen by 380,000 households.

That may not seem too dramatic… at first glance. But with an average 2.5 persons per household (2011 census), that’s close to 1 million patients whose “home phone” field in their dentist’s database is now obsolete.

Taking this one step further, I’ve been hearing reports that companies are moving in this direction as well. With matrixed teams, mobile workforces and telecommuting staff, even the desk phone is working its way off the gangplank. So much for the backup “office number” in your database.

What significance does this have for us? Most importantly, dental practices not making a point of collecting their patients’ “mobile” and “email” data may soon encounter challenges in reaching them at all. A lot can change in 6 or 9 months!

Here are a few other facts from the CRTC report:
• Canadians who own a Smartphone: 67%
• Tablet ownership: 49%
• Wireless subscribers in Canada: 28.8 million
• Average data usage per month by Canadians with smartphone or tablet: 1 gigabyte
• Canadians with access to a fourth-generation wireless network: 93%
• Households subscribing to internet services: 11.6 million

It’s clear that Canadians are active participants in the evolving digital economy. So by Hook or by crook… get their numbers in your book!