Dental professionals expect to hone their clinical skills through continuing education. Yet few apply this thirst for knowledge to their office procedures and the art of engaging their patients.
If you experience revenue leaks due to gaps in your appointment calendar – or if your stressed out dental team spends an inordinate amount of time juggling appointments at the last minute – it might be time to entertain a few adjustments to standard operating procedures.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Most dentists believe their dental team already uses industry standard practices to manage their appointment calendars. They’ve trained their team members to book follow-up appointments before their patients leave the office, and they’ve instituted a system for sending reminder messages prior to the scheduled dates/times. That’s great! However, some minor adjustments to the “dental scripts” used for patient communication can go a long way toward plugging revenue leaks caused by gaps in the appointment calendar.
Take the case of the appointment reminder. The typical message provides the date and time of the scheduled visit along with a request for a callback if the need arises to re-schedule. While this wording conveys an accommodating attitude on the part of the dental practice, it sets the bar rather low for patient responsibility. It suggests that adjustments to the weekly schedule are no big deal. In reality, it’s a hassle for the dental team and could result in lost revenue if they’re unable to fill the gap. And, of course, the patient may not receive much-needed treatment in a timely manner.
Consider the following messaging: “We have reserved an hour for you with our team on [Day/Date/Time] and look forward to seeing you soon.” It focuses on your mutual commitment and sets an expectation of maintaining the schedule.
Last minute cancellations are particularly troublesome. Rather than accepting the patient’s imminent no show, try saying: “As we’ve already reserved this time for you, what can we do to help you keep the appointment?” If the patient is unexpectedly delayed, the dental team may be able to accommodate a late arrival.
If financial considerations or a fear of discomfort prevent the patient from communicating a possible no show, the dental team may be able to resolve the issue and get things back on track. Instead of a hasty pivot to re-scheduling or imposition of penalties, an invitation to communicate and resolve any issue the patient may have creates an opportunity to identify and address the underlying problem.
Each of these examples demonstrates how a relatively minor change in wording can establish a context in which the team member anticipates and works toward successful outcomes. It also sets the tone for relationships based on mutual accountability.
Invest in Dental Team Member Trainings
If it was simply a matter of writing the perfect dental script for every occasion, we’d publish our “best of all words” and declare victory. In reality, your dental team members need training to take the words off the page and put them into action successfully.
Team huddles present an opportunity to review the key elements of scripted messaging and why they matter in patient communication. Encourage your team to adjust the language to suit their personal style, while still retaining the underlying intent of each message. Encourage them to practice saying it aloud so their delivery comes across as natural and sincere.
Be prepared to refine your messaging over time based on the experience of your dental team and the type of patients you serve. Give dental team members an opportunity to share their successes and their challenges, as well as any insights they have gleaned. Recognize that even the best communicators will find uncomfortable patient conversations daunting. Make sure they get practical (and emotional) support from their peers to address these circumstances. Leverage outside expertise as needed.
A fresh look at scripting and a renewed commitment to dental team member training and continuous improvement opens the door to a sweeter bottom line and a more productive, less harried team. The good news is that it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to make these refinements. Management consultants who specialize in the field have already figured out what works. You simply need to tap into this wellspring of knowledge so small word changes are woven into everyday conversations.