Owning a dental practice or working in a dental office can be a very rewarding albeit sometimes challenging profession. With the right systems and training any job in the dental office can bring a sense of accomplishment and can be very rewarding. We all face challenges every day but it’s how we deal with them and if we have the tools and training to deal with these obstacles that will determine the outcome.
In this article, we are going to discuss 5 of the most common issues dental practices deal with regularly and how to work through them.
1. Teeth come with people
Although this seems obvious, think about how many dental offices handle a new patient phone call. One of the first questions we ask is “What insurance do you have?” Rather than focusing on the patient behind the call, we are telling them we are more concerned about their insurance.
It’s almost kind of mechanical – like we seem to be programmed to ask this question. We need to realize these mechanical questions might seem insignificant to you but the person behind them is another. Our patients have emotions, fears, and expectations that we need to be able to handle with the utmost care and ultimate customer service.
Sometimes we allow our patient’s personality to affect our ability to do our job. Those fears, demands, and emotions our patients present can affect our ability to focus on the task at hand and we are drawn into those emotions. It’s okay to be sympathetic to a patient’s issues but the bottom line is if they have been diagnosed with a need, it still exists even if they have concerns.
When a patient is questioning our doctor’s diagnosis, our fees, our schedule, its’ easy for us to get nervous or defensive. If a patient tells you they hate the dentist office, it’s natural to be offended and maybe not feel as compassionate. When we must deal with these types of patients, it’s normal to just want to get the patient done and out of the office but we should stop and remind ourselves we are here to help our patients get the best dental care possible in the best dental office by providing them with the best overall experience through compassionate care and ultimate customer service.
We need to stop being programmed and focus on treating the person behind the teeth with respect and concern as if they were a member of our family or a friend. If it was your family member or friend – would it matter what insurance they had or would you want them to get the treatment they need? Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to help them get the treatment they need? Dealing with our patients is part of our job and we need to learn how to deal with these challenges with working with these people that come with those teeth!
2. New “stuff” doesn’t equal new patients
We love our dental supply company but I have seen many times where a doctor tells the rep their new patients are down and they really need to find a way to increase that number. The reps are always eager to remind us about that new piece of equipment or technology that will “help you do this or that faster or better” so you can see more patients or have more time off, etc. But remember if you’re not getting new patients in the door in the first place who are you going to use that new equipment on?
Think about this. First, all that new equipment and technology costs a lot of money which increases debt. Most patients just want to know they are receiving the best care in a clean, comfortable office and that the equipment and technology are at least modern. They really don’t know if your equipment is new or 10+ years old but most will know if you’re doing digital x-rays or if your computer system looks like it was built when computers first came out!
We all want and deserve to have a nice facility with up-to-date technology and equipment. But we need to have our systems and training in place to convert those new patient calls into appointments.
3. I must participate with insurance
It is not realistic in a dental practice to think that you can practice dentistry without accepting dental insurance, or is it? Dental insurance has been around for so long that so many dentists think they must participate or accept what the insurance company decides you should be paid. When you sign up with dental insurance companies you will not only be told what you deserve to get paid but you will limit your ability to practice dentistry on your terms.
When you sign up as a PPO dentist, the insurance company will determine your fees, what treatment is best for your patients, and whether we want to believe it or not, the patients will believe what the insurance company decides for them over what our trained, licensed dentists have diagnosed. Many patients consider their dental care as just another service they are trying to get the best price for and because they see their insurance company as their payment for these services, they only want to do what the insurance pays.
We should have a paradigm shift in this thinking and it starts with the dental office and we should explain it to our patients. We are their healthcare provider and the insurance company is contracted by their employer. The employer chooses what limitations are put on the insurance, not our office, therefore they must understand that what we diagnose is in the best interest of their health, not their insurance benefits. If they had no insurance or insurance with no limitations, they would still need the care we have diagnosed.
If you are already in network, the first step to deciding to get out of network for insurances is to determine if you are at the right place and time to do that. There are a lot of resources out there to help owners and management review their numbers to determine when it makes sense. Before deciding that it is time to get out of the insurance plans, whether it be one or multiple, there should be some calculated decisions made and serious questions to be answered. Laura wrote a very informative piece on Getting Out of Network that we would be happy to share. If you’re interested, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Patient education has changed
The dental team, including the doctor, has a new challenge of educating our patients not only on the basics of dentistry – explaining a crown, periodontal disease, and its associated risks, to even something as simple as correct tooth brushing but with new technology and clinical techniques evolving, so does the evolution of how we educate our patients. And to add insult to injury, we have the responsibility of educating third party groups why these new technologies and techniques should be paid for.
With new and better treatment for our patients such as tooth-colored fillings, CAD/CAM crowns, medicated treatment of periodontal conditions, and even electric toothbrushes and other advanced at home care aids, there is a change in the way we have to educate our patients on the treatment options, modalities, and services available to them.
Even though implant dentistry has been around for many years and is well proven to be a successful treatment for many patients, many patients still don’t understand the benefits and coverage by insurance companies and other third-party coverage is just starting to be seen in our field. Preventive dentistry has long been commonplace, acceptable and covered by insurance in children's dentistry but not with the elderly population using the same principles.
Until the insurance industry (if ever) catches up to the advancements in dentistry and starts to cover payment for these new advancements in treatment and technologies, this leaves us with the responsibility to re-educate our patients because they assume these technologies are not tested or proven and usually feel they are not worth the cost. Unfortunately, because of this, many dentists are apprehensive about incorporating these treatments into their practices and it can impede a dentist's ability to offer the best treatment in their own practice for their patients.
5. Employees vs Team
Our patients come to us for their dental needs. They want a dentist who is nice, has a great chairside manner and does great dentistry. But when patients come to your office they don’t just see the dentist. In fact, you are probably not the main reason they come to your office.
Your patients might get to see you for about 10 minutes twice or maybe even 4 times a year when they come to get their teeth cleaned and they might even spend a little more time with you when they need treatment. But they do spend much of their time with your team. They spend usually an hour with their hygienist, time with the front office dealing with billing, scheduling, etc. and even time visiting with your assistant getting prepped for treatment and building rapport with them before you come in and after you are done.
Research any dental office’s reviews and you will see when there are complaints about the office, it’s usually with the staff, not the doctor or the treatment they received but the scheduling, or billing or running on time, or how the staff handled an issue.
When your patients call your office and are immediately put on hold, what message does that give? When they come through your front door and there is no one to greet them or offer a hello and a smile, how does that help create the ultimate customer service? If the hygienist is running late because of poor scheduling and the hand-off rushed, how does that make the patient feel? Patients want and deserve to be acknowledged. They want to know you remember them and are interested in what they have to say. They want to feel like they are your favorite patient.
Having a team in place vs hiring employees to do a job may seem like semantics but it’s the buy-in from a dedicated, loyal employee who can sometimes make or break your practice.
If a patient has these negative responses in your office, it will be very easy for them to choose to go to another dentist for the sometimes the smallest of reasons. Having the right team in place who is trained will create the ultimate customer service culture within your practice and make your patients feel like Rock Stars!
Would you like to dig even deeper into each of these issues and their resolutions? Don’t worry, we have that covered too. In the coming weeks, we will address each issue individually and go further into the resolution of that problem and provide best-known methods to create solutions that work for you.