New patients are the lifeline to every successful dental practice. Without new patients, production will decline and the practice will not exist. Every dental practice has a normal attrition of patients. This is a fact of business. People move, pass away, or leave because you are not on their “insurance plan” and this can mean an annual loss of 10%. Just as your heart beats at least 60 beats per minute, you must have a continual flow of new patients walking in the front door to make up for those patients who are walking out the back door.
Patient retention (continuing care) is the heartbeat of the dental practice. Your active patient base consists of patients who value your care, accept your recommendations, and pay for treatment. These are the people who trust you and your team. They refer their families, friends, and colleagues to you. These are the are key players to the ongoing success of your business Most patients see the hygienist more than any other auxiliary of the dental team. This is what makes the hygienist carry and important role in building and maintaining the current active patient base.
Maintaining the Active Patient Base. Always Pre-Schedule Hygiene Appointments
Always preschedule 90 percent of your hygiene department patients –Patients are more likely to understand the importance of why they need to schedule their next hygiene appointment. When the hygienist schedules the patients for their next hygiene visit there is a continuation in the practioner/hygiene communication process. You most likely see a positive patient attitude and an increase in patient compliance occur when the hygienist is engaged in scheduling the patient next hygiene appointments. Ideally this should occur when the patient is still present in the hygiene treatment room.
Communicate With Confidence: Words Do Matter
The dialogue between the auxiliary and patient is extremely important. Here is an example of how the conversation may go:
Example: “Today I found a few areas of bleeding that were considered abnormal and doctor is observing and area where you have the beginning of decay. Our schedule is very tight because patients usually schedule before they leave their dental hygiene appointment. I know that you like to come in first thing in the morning on Thursdays so I recommend that we reserve your next appointment to assure that you can return on that day of the week and at that time in fact that is a very valuable and popular time for most of our patients. To make sure you have your next appointment on this day of the week and at this time, I want to schedule and reserve this time for you now. I can see you on Thursday, October 18th at am. Will this work for your schedule? ”
The dental hygienist is the oral health educator for every dental practice. It is the role of the dental hygienist to educate patients about the relationship between oral health and systemic health. Patient involvement and active participation create ownership and accountability and will ultimately reduce the cancellation and failure rates of the continuing care patients. The preventive care and supportive periodontal maintenance appointments have the highest cancellations and failed appointment rates of any service in the dental practice. If you have one hygienist working four days a week and each day you have one cancellation you this can lead to an annual loss as high as $150,000 in hygiene department profits and this does not account for the treatment normally diagnosed from the hygiene appointments.
For a hygiene department achieve success they should be scheduling 95 percent of their future dental hygiene appointments at the time of the patients current dental hygiene appointment. Always create monitors and track the scheduling ratio. Count the total number of patients seen in the hygiene department each month and divide this number by the number of appointments available for the month. The hygiene or scheduling coordinator should then report the current scheduling rate to the team at monthly team meetings. The scheduling coordinator needs to always report in the morning huddle the open times available on the hygiene schedule each day for the next week.
Many dental practices charge a fee for failed appointments, and the effect of doing this has been positive in raising patient awareness of the importance of the time set aside for their appointments.
Team approach –Everyone on the team should understand the words which are effective for a positive patient response. Courtesy confirmation calls, emails, text messages and written communications define the hygiene appointment (continuing care) with dialogues such as this:
“Hello Mr. Goodman, its Megan calling because Maria (Insert the name of the hygienist seeing the patient) and I are looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at 3 o’clock for your preventive care appointment. I see on the schedule that Maria will be doing your annual periodontal screening exam and Dr. Goodtooth mentioned to me that you were in tested in the new whitening product we are using. We’ll see you then. By doing this, patients are moved beyond the “just-a-cleaning-and-a-check-up” mentality. It is best not to discuss any type of cancellation policy because this is only a subconscious reminder that if something else comes up they can cancel and it sets up for failure for your continuing care systems’ success. Do not ask for calls back to the office to verify an appointment. Have the expectation that patients understand the importance of their dental service and desire to come to see the doctor and/or hygienist.
Chart audit and patient activation must be ongoing systems that are frequently performed in the office. This is completed through daily reviews and computer reports. While everyone on the team plays an important role, one auxiliary (the hygiene or scheduling coordinator) is responsible and accountable for keeping the daily schedule full and productive. At team meetings, the scheduling coordinator reports and discusses the scheduling effectiveness rate. Everyone needs to be aware of what is working and what is not working so that problem-solving can take place.
Creating Strategic Solutions First
Create a plan of action when there is a small crack in a system. Ask for suggestions to overcome these challenges which may occur and when you are feeling like a hemorrhaging in systems and a decline in production occurs. When challenges do occur this is a very important time for you to consider the advise of a dental expert who is knowledgeable in overcoming these challenges, especially during these stressful economic times in our world today.
When you have a water leak you most likely want to STOP it sooner than later rather than put your money down the drain for water never used. It’s the same thing with your dental business; STOP the financial leaks sooner than later! Creating a plan of action for each system you have in place will halt the progression of a small problem into a bigger one.
Annually sit down as a team to list all of your systems and re-evaluate what is and is not working. Above is only a very small example of systems you should have in place: New Patients, Continuing Care Patients, Communication and Scheduling. Creating your own list of systems is important to re-evaluate before each year begins.
Creating strategic systems for your success will STOP the water leaks in your practice before they flow out of control. Most businesses that do not have a PLAN in place have PLANNED to fail! Create your systems, write them down, re-evaluate them annually — and then be certain you flourish in the years to come! This creates a WIN-WIN for all so go ENJOY the RIDE!