For this week’s webletter, we have the privilege of offering the article “Getting Patients to SHOW UP!” by MGE client Laura Hatch, MS, Office Manager of Scripps Rock Dental and CEO of Front Office Rocks, an online training company for front desk staff. Since becoming MGE clients in 2003, Laura and Dr. Tony Hatch have actually built two successful practices, starting out with their Maryland office, which they sold in 2008 to move across the country to San Diego. Now, in Southern California, they have a 100% fee-for-service practice collecting in excess of $190,000 per month with an average of 74 new patients every month. In this article, Laura shares a customer service tip that has worked extremely well in their practice.
What is the one thing that can kill the day before the day even starts???? That dreaded phone call. “Cough….cough… I am sorry but I can’t make it for my appointment today.” And there it goes… the schedule was perfect when you walked in and then it starts… but then the phones start ringing and now it is a schedule full of holes. That is the life of a dental office, right?
No, I say! It definitely does not have to be. With the following four changes made within a dental office, the schedule full of holes can be a thing of the past.
“How?” you might ask. In order to remember what needs to happen, ask yourself what do you want them to do??? SHOW UP!!!
Sell – This is the first and foremost important thing to remember… a person that is not sold is a patient that is not going to show. Honestly, when the patient calls that morning, they might as well be saying, “you know I just woke up and realized I am supposed to get a root canal today and pay you a lot of money. I decided I don’t want to do that so I am not coming.” In order to make sure that patients don’t cancel, you need to make sure that they are sold on the treatment. Why is the sales process so important? Wouldn’t you rather handle their concerns and issues during the consult before you put them in the schedule or wait to find out the day they are supposed to show up?
Hand-offs are the most important thing when having good control in your office. A hand-off is when one employee hands-off a patient to another employee with all the needed information for the next employee to handle the patient appropriately. Hand-offs are important in the scheduling process to make sure all the important things are handled, such as: did the doctor review the treatment with the patient clearly? Did the treatment coordinator review payment and insurance with the patient? Did the financial coordinator get payment or get payment arrangements worked out with the patient? And, finally, did the scheduler get the patient scheduled in an appropriate place that is best for the office and ensures the patient will be able to show up? I cover the hand-off more in depth in this article.
Organized Systems – No matter how much it frustrates a dental office, some patients will always attempt to call and cancel last minute or the day of. What needs to happen to prevent this is learning and implementing good, organized systems in the office. When a patient calls in to cancel, who handles the call? When a patient tries to cancel last minute what verbal skills should the employee use to prevent them from canceling? Also, even before that, what systems are in place to confirm patients for the appointments? Do you use appointment reminder software? Do you send postcards? When do your employees call to confirm? The list goes on and on but the most important part of this is to figure out what your office systems are and then get them organized so cancellations can be prevented.
Want – This is more intangible but can make the difference between an office with very little holes in the schedule and a schedule that looks like Swiss cheese. How much do the staff Want To Fill the schedule? An employee that has that “Want” is one that will bend over backwards to help the patient figure out a way to show up for the appointment. An employee that wants to keep the schedule full will rearrange the schedule as needed to ensure that the patient can still show up and, with a couple changes, everyone will be busy and happy. Want is an important drive and you can tell the employees that want to keep the schedule full by calling up until the time of the open slot versus the employee who takes a break to check their phone when there are open appointment times in the schedule to fill.
Unwavering – This again is intangible but is a philosophy that, if your office has it, will diminish your cancelations. You can’t be wishy-washy, permissive or irresolute with patients with regards to canceling. Patients will call in and try to cancel for the smallest things because they think, “oh it is just a dental appointment and they are so nice at that office, they will understand.” Well guess what… if we continue to let the patients cancel with that type of attitude you are just fostering an office full of patients who cancel last minute. An “Unwavering” attitude means, that from the first time a patient is scheduled, they are told of the importance of making the scheduled appointment all the way through when they try to cancel. If your philosophy is important and you, Mr. Patient, needs to try to figure out a way to make this appointment – the patients will get it and stop canceling.
Pre-pay – The answer to stopping cancellations and no shows is sandwiched in this article by the two most important things. First the patient needs to be sold but even more importantly, if you want patients to show up then get them to pre-pay. If a patient has paid something in order to schedule that appointment, guess what? The morning they wake up and don’t want to go to the dentist to get that procedure done, that money that they put down will get them to show up. Pre-pay is a way to ensure that a patient is on board and that they will show up. I guarantee if you start to sell your patients on what they need, follow all the other processes outlined above and get your patients to pay, your cancelation problems will be a thing of the past.