Are you seeing the backs of a lot of patients’ heads? Are patients needing treatment and not accepting what you
The reality is that treatment plan acceptance is running less than 40 percent in many practices. In my experience,
it is not unusual for a practice to have half-a-million dollars or more in outstanding treatment diagnosed over the past year. A large percentage of patients are walking out of the office without scheduling and oftentimes no one in the practice is following up with them. Many do not realize their dental condition will only get worse and end up costing more. The more time that passes, the more likely they are to go to another dentist.
Treatment plan acceptance begins before the diagnosis and presentation. It’s important to gain control over incomplete treatment and turn this around in your practice. I am going to share some successful actions that can help you and your team increase case acceptance and, therefore, your income.
1. Improve public relations
Your treatment plan presentation success starts with your reputation and public relations — what patients have
said about you, your practice, your team, etc. These have a lot to do with your success.
Utilize the Internet to get the good news out about your practice and what it is that you offer. Develop an online strategy that allows you to push messages to your patients and the general public. Create a website and keep it current. Piggyback messaging activities with national dental health observances such as:
Reach out into the community and find opportunities to speak about dental health at community gatherings. Dentistry is more competitive today; it’s now about the patients’ experiences before, during and after their visit.
- National Children’s Dental Health Month (February)
- Oral Cancer Awareness Month (April)
- National Gum Care Month (September)
- Dental Hygiene Month (October)
- National Toothache Day (Feb 9)
- National Tooth Fairy Day (Feb 28)
2. Take control of the initial call
It takes someone skilled to get potential new patients who call your office to actually be scheduled and then
arrive at the office. You may be surprised how many times prospective patients call with the intention of scheduling an appointment and never do, or make an appointment and never show up. A good communicator must handle
your phones and it is important that they do not put off prospective patients. The phones should be answered
by the end of the second ring and the voice they hear should be one that is cheerful and helpful. They are calling and they are ready now. Get them scheduled within the next week and consider having the doctor give them an introduction call before their appointment. This is a great way to get them to commit to the practice and they will
be impressed when doctor asks something like, “How can we make your visit exceptional?”
3. Be aware of office appearance
The first impression of the office is important. The office should be clean and updated. The sign should look sharp. The parking lot should be free of trash. The plants should be in good shape with manicured landscaping. The
office needs to be comfortable, attractive and inviting. Remove all clutter and make sure your idea of acceptable doesn’t leave a “dumpy” impression on your patients.
4. Establish effective new patient procedures
Once patients have found the office, called for an appointment and actually arrived, the next step is very important: You must establish good communication with them. Ask why they are there and what they want taken care of. Do not ask the canned question, “What can I do for you today?” That is too cold and shows no genuine interest. Say something natural and friendly like, “Hi Mrs. Jackson, I’m Dr. X. How are you today? It’s nice to meet you.”
Go over their registration and their health history; there will be many opportunities in which to establish good communication with them.
Before you can save, prevent or correct someone’s problem you must find out what dental condition is bothering him or her. It must be something the patient considers an “unwanted condition.” This takes skilled communication. They probably will not tell you they are afraid to get in the dental chair or that they want something cheap.
You may have to ask, “Are you a little afraid?” or, “Are you concerned about cost?” You may be surprised at what you learn.
Do not be afraid to ask for the information you need. Once you discover their true concerns, you may have to shed some light on the problem and get them to talk about it before you can get them excited about correcting their problems or getting them to actually ask for what they need.
Once you find out what they think they want, you’ll be on your way to doing it.
- “What has your experience with your dentist been in the past?”
- “What kind of trouble are you having?”
- “Is there something about your teeth, mouth, etc., that you have your attention on, or that you are concerned about?”
- “Have you been having pain?”
5. Improve communication skills
When communicating the treatment plan to new and existing patients, it is important to be a good listener and be genuinely interested in your patients. Positive energy and positive attitudes are contagious, so stay positive and believe that you can help patients remove barriers that may keep them from scheduling. When communicating
with patients about their needed treatment:
- Avoid getting too technical
- Listen for objections
- Use visual aids
- Sit at the same level as the patient
- Make eye contact
- Avoid sitting across a desk or table
- Make sure there are no distractions
- Ask questions such as:
- “Would you like to save your teeth?”
- “Would you like to be able to chew your food?”
- “Would you like to be pain-free?”
Stress the need for treatment and let them know what will happen if they don’t get the work: “It will not get better
on its own and it will cost more if you put it off.” They come to your practice for treatment, you are the professional and they expect you to be honest. You can say things like:
Ask them, “Have I answered all of your questions?” Make sure the treatment plan addresses their original concern.
- “It’s becoming more expensive.”
- “Your body is constantly fi ghting infection.”
- “Those cavities are growing and getting bigger.”
6. Offer payment options
Every practice needs to have a financial policy in writing with payment options. If you want to increase acceptance, you have to have convenient and attractive ways for patients to pay for it. These options include:
- Offer five percent discount for pre-pay and seniors.
- Accept credit and debit cards.
- Offer third-party financing such as CareCredit.
- Make financial arrangements before scheduling and always get a signed financial agreement.
7. Increase team responsibility
People in general want to know they are making the right choices. This is where the actions of the team make the difference. The team needs to be proud of the office and support the doctor by complimenting his work in front of patients. Patients will judge the doctor and practice by what they see and hear. If the team is communicating well and there is positive energy between the team and the doctor; patients can sense it and they feel more
comfortable and more likely to accept treatment. Assistants can use the time the doctor is out of the room to promote the practice and discuss any outstanding treatment.
It is important that staff end each visit with positive communication that prepares patients for the next step.
- Raise the chair to an upright position and face the patient
- Give them a verbal summary of what was done that day
- Reinforce needed treatment and the benefits of returning
- Communicate urgency
- Escort the patient to the front desk and hand them over for scheduling and financial arrangements.
- Reinforce what they heard in the treatment room during the handoff. “Mrs. Smith just completed her routine recare appointment. I’ve already set her up to come back in six months so we can keep her gums healthy. Doctor wants to see her back here as soon as possible to take care of that cracked tooth.”
8. Follow up with patients
Every practice needs a clear understanding of who enters the treatment plan in the computer. I recommend the technical staff do it prior to check-out. Appoint someone to be responsible for follow up with patients that don’t schedule. Print a report listing patients with incomplete treatment diagnosed over the past 12 months. Send letters and make calls to these patients. All conversations about the treatment plan should be entered in the practice software.
9. Track your success
Imagine going to watch your favorite sports team play a game and there was no scoreboard. The teams are
running around, but it’s impossible to know who is winning. Everyone looks good out there, but you really don’t
know how well it’s going because no one is keeping score.
It’s important that you become an informed coach when it comes to case acceptance. It’s one of the most vital statistics to keep in a practice. You need to know the quantity and dollar amount of treatment plans presented and accepted, as well who has the best batting average. The easiest way to track your success is by utilizing a
treatment plan presented and accepted worksheet with the headings seen on figure 1.
10. Consider offering a dental savings plan
Every practice has patients who use having no insurance as an excuse for not accepting treatment. A service like Quality Dental Plan (www.qualitydentalplan.com) allows patients to receive the care they need and makes
dentistry more affordable while taking the hassle of dealing with insurance companies out of the equation. You
will see an improvement in patient retention percentages because patients are pre-paying for their cleanings.
By gaining control of treatment acceptance in your practice, you can easily increase your income and help
patients get the treatment they need. I challenge you to generate a report from your software showing all
treatment diagnosed and unscheduled over the past 12 months. It may surprise you.