Get those Patients Back in the Office
One thing that every dental office has in common is that there is a system to get their hygiene patients back into the office; some may refer to this system as continuing care, preventive care, recare, recall or professional cleaning. Whatever you call your system, each office handles their system a bit differently.
The bottom line is that your system is only as good as the person responsible for its accomplishments and the success of the practice. This is an area that must be monitored constantly and consistently for the system to be effective. For the purposes of this discussion, we will refer to this system as recare.
Recently, I was in an office, ‘Dr. Molar’s’, when a patient, ‘Mary’, called in; it seems that Mary had been a patient of Dr. Molar’s for 10+ years, prior to the pandemic. Mary’s friend, Debbie, talked her into going to see her dentist, Dr. Crown, who was across town. Mary stated that she had not been contacted by Dr. Molar’s office for her recare appointment, so she thought maybe it was a good time to change dentists. Dr. Crown diagnosed several fillings and 4 crowns during the comprehensive exam. Mary began treatment with a crown and 2 fillings. Mary experienced severe discomfort for over a week following the treatment. When she called Dr. Crown to find out what was going on, she was told that she probably now needed a root canal. After 4 trips across town and thousands of dollars, Mary wasn’t quite feeling as comfortable with Dr. Crown so she decided to contact Dr. Molar’s office.
This was an eye-opening occurrence for Dr. Molar’s office because although they had contacted Mary twice – it was in 2019 or early 2020. Once the pandemic hit, their recare system took twists and turns, just like the world. They worked their recare lists, however, had not looked back enough to reach Mary, after the pandemic.
Another situation occurred in a different office – a patient ‘Becky’ called to ask for her family ledger for 2020 taxes. The admin team pulled the report and sent it to Becky. Becky quickly called back to state that she also needed ledgers for herself and the children’s visit from July. The office informed her that their appointments were not July of 2020 yet rather July of 2019. The patient was so embarrassed and apologetic. She promptly scheduled cleanings for the entire family. The office had called the family but again did not work the list as feverishly as they did for patients only 6 months past due.
An active pre-appointing system is far more productive and creates a superior recare system that will improve the efficiency of any dental office. Practices that are committed to pre-appointing in the correct manner will swear by the benefits. Good organization and outstanding verbal skills will help patients respond favorably to this system. If the patient often declines, it is usually because the hygienist asked a closed ended question: "Would you like to schedule your next visit?" A closed ended question requires only a yes or no answer. Most often, the response to this kind of question is, "I don’t know my schedule that far in advance, go ahead and send me a postcard and I’ll call you."
To maintain control of the conversation and a positive response, the hygienist should inform the patient what is going to be done. "Mrs. Smith, your next professional cleaning appointment will be in May. I can see you on Tuesday the 1st or Wednesday the 2nd. Which of these would be the most convenient for you?" Create an image for the patient that conveys that you are doing them a favor. This requires advanced verbal skills, a pleasant personality, and a genuine desire to make everyone happy.
The words you use register with your patients and by using terms of value, patients will be more likely to schedule an appointment and will not be as apt to cancel or fail to show. In addition, they also more accurately describe what procedures are being performed by the hygienist and straightforward verbal skills will help to make a continuing care system successful.
Reminders, whether it be by email or text, should be sent out three to four weeks ahead of the scheduled appointments. This reminder gives patients sufficient time to reschedule their appointments if necessary and gives the appointment coordinator sufficient time to repair any openings in the schedule.
When dismissing the patient at the completion of the treatment, whether with the hygienist or the dentist, create a perception of value and importance in the mind of the patient by saying, for example, "Take care, Mrs. Smith, I’ll see you at your continuing care appointment in May." Every patient should be released with the reminder that there is another appointment, even if it is 6 months from now.
What happens to those patients that do not pre-appoint? In 6 months, someone gets the daunting task of running the report and calling these patients. This is one of the most hated jobs because there is little reward for so much work. Before the call can be made, research has to be completed- when was the last hygiene appointment, what does the insurance allow, what x-rays are needed, how long is the appointment to be scheduled for and is there a balance? Then all the phone numbers are called and messages left at each number.
Typically, only 1 in 20 calls are ‘hits’. An effective recare system needs to personally get in touch with your patients at the right time of day, which is not necessarily the best time of day for your patients. Statistics prove that it is easier to get a hold of patients in the evening times, between the hours of 5 and 8 pm. Do you see why it is so much more efficient to pre-appoint?
Recare, recall or continuing care, is the one of the most important systems that you can organize in your practice. The key to a successful continuing care program is to make sure that it is a routine task, just as putting in payments or making a deposit. It is too easy for your patients to fall through the cracks. Most patients do not keep up with their continuing care due date. Most treatment is scheduled following a recall appointment. This is why it is crucial to make sure that your recall system is rock solid.
Post pandemic, we must remember that patients have lost track of time, even more than ever. Reach back to those patients that have missed the past 2, 3 or 4 hygiene visits because of the world being put on its ear. It’s time for a total Recare Reboot and get those patients back in the office and back on track.
Denise Ciardello, Consultant
Denise is co-founder of Global Team Solutions. A professional speaker and published author, her enthusiasm and knowledge about the dental profession has helped many dental teams. She brings experience, insight, and creativity into her management style, along with a sense of humor. In a profession that can cause anxiety in some dental employees.
Denise’s consulting approach is to partner with doctors and team members to help them realize the dream of creating a thriving, successful practice.
Denise can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org