How to increase follow-through appointments
I recently read about a question posed to a small group: How much money could you spend without first consulting with your spouse or significant other? $50? $100? $500 $1,000?
While $50 might seem low – that’s not even half a week’s groceries for a family – $1,000 does seem like serious cash.
Yet that’s roughly the cost of a significant dental procedure, like a crown or an emergency exam. So, it’s no wonder that your patients may be dazed when they hear the cost of a treatment plan and either don’t schedule or call to cancel without rescheduling.
So that’s where the art of the staff comes in. And with a little training, practice and role-playing, your staff can keep patients coming in for treatment and be the happier for it.
Dental consultant and author Penny Reed pinpoints timing as crucial in canceled treatment. “Unfortunately, we add to this procrastination by asking for the payment today and assuming that if they really want the dentistry they will ‘find a way’ to make it happen.
While at some level this is true, it overlooks the fundamental principle of case acceptance (sales). The patient’s decision to buy or to commit to buy is an emotional one. The more time that passes before the patient begins treatment, the more their desire is likely to diminish, and the treatment fails to take place,” she writes in The Observer, the magazine of the American Association of Dental Office Management.
Reed spelled out some coaching tips that hygienists and assistants can use and practice to improve the numbers on follow-through appointments and reduce the unscheduled treatment report.
She encouraged coaching the dental team by identifying a problem area – such as treatment cancellation appointments – and devising a script with solutions to present to the patient. Reed encourages frequent huddles to see how the approach is working, tweak, and encourage better outcomes the following day. Constant evaluation and high standards for outcomes is key.
Betty Hayden provides meat for the bones of treatment commitment. In the same issue, Hayden encouraged the dental team to role play discussing the cost of treatment plans, small and large, until the discussion seems thorough and relaxed. The dental consultant also suggested dental practices have a written financial policy that is presented and reviewed with new and old patients so costs are never a surprise. (As more practices put this kind of information on their websites, written summaries are a no-brainer.)
Hayden said at all costs avoid making assumptions or judgments about a patient’s ability to pay. “Don’t make decisions for the patient regarding their ability to afford treatment, whether based on assumption or reality. Always offer the best treatment and flexible payment options and allow the patient to decide what they accept.”
She urged that the treatment plan and financial breakdown be presented together, before treatment begins, using the best estimates possible. Where insurance is used, the financial information should include what insurance covers, co-pays, deductibles and what the patient can expect to pay out of pocket. Collecting a co-pay before treatment begins – as well as scheduling the needed follow-up appointments ahead of time – increases the likelihood the patient will follow through with treatment, Hayden said.
Make it easy for patients to pay by check, cash or charge and even third-party financing, Hayden said. She even encourages financial incentives when a patient makes a future appointment.
For “forgetful” patients, Hayden suggested advising patients to call the office from home to pay, or sending the patient home with an envelope and note with the payment due date so the payment can be dropped in the mail. Front office staff needs to stay on top of unpaid bills as well as insurance claims so patients can be updated on payments, she noted.
Being upfront with patients on costs, flexibility and payment expectations will go a long way in keeping patients happy and cash flow on track.
Photo by leezsnow,copyright istockphoto.com.
The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society.
CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing issues facing dentists and staff members experience in the office.
Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist.