Whilst working with dental practices, I often find a long list of outstanding treatment plans for patients which have been carefully identified, thought through, discussed at length and then left languishing on an unseen report which is not even gathering dust as it is neatly hidden away on the practice server hard drive. Out of sight and out of mind?
Much of the hard work has been done by identifying the need, explaining the benefits and getting the patient on side yet, so often, this hard work is lost by not following through and bringing the patient back to complete the treatment.
“Out of sight and out of mind” can impact both practice and patient:
As the patient leaves your surgery, treatment plan in hand, focus of the dental team quickly moves onto other patients – surgeries are cleansed, payment taken and the appointment closed off. Who’s next please?
How much do we really think about the patient who has just left the practice or plan next steps to bring the patient back for his treatment?
As the patient leaves your surgery, his or her focus is on where they are going next and a big sigh of relief that the visit to the dentist is over for another six months.
Not surprisingly, unless the patient is in pain or has a burning desire to have any recommended treatment completed, they will often go home or work and life carries on with the dentist appointment a distant memory.
So how do we ensure treatment plans do not become “out of sight and out of mind”?
- Before the patient leaves the surgery make sure he fully understands the treatment plan you have recommended including the benefits and impact this will have on his life.
- Prepare a concise treatment plan which explains this in plain English including benefits and costs which the patient takes away with him.
- Answer any questions or concerns and gain some commitment by suggesting a date for completion of the treatment which must be relayed to reception for booking.
- Reception should aim to book the appointment in with the patient before they leave which can then be tracked using the normal appointment reminder/cancellation procedures.
- Where the patient is not yet ready to commit, ensure that an equivalent appointment is placed into the follow-up list of your practice software or equivalent and diarise for a future date – ideally one that is agreed with the patient.
- Follow-up lists are actioned daily with all discussions and feedback from patients recorded until a final appointment is made, or the patient makes a specific decision not to go ahead. This can then be flagged in patient records and flagged up with the dentist for discussion at the next routine dental health check.
- When calling patients to follow up, make the call valuable by:
- Aiming to book an appointment
- Understanding any reasons for further delay
- Responding to questions or concerns pro-actively
- Remember that the patient is still interested unless they specifically say no. Something is still not quite right for the patient which we need to identify, understand and resolve
- Refer back to the dentist where appropriate
- Agree a further follow-up call with the patient
- Remove any treatments which are rejected by patients from follow-up after noting reasons and updating the dentist
- Update patient records and re-diarise a further follow-up either at a time agreed with the patient or after a reasonable time period such as 2 weeks or a month.
I suggest that practices aim to have all future appointments for treatment either booked directly into the diary or actively followed on automated follow-up lists so that at any time we can:
- Quickly see how much treatment is outstanding
- Review contact activity and success rates
- Understand typical patient concerns & questions so that we can be better prepared
- Provide a structured follow-up list for reception and Treatment Co-Ordinators to work on daily
Telephone Training for the team is essential and a vital investment as follow-up calls must be handled professionally, ethically and pro-actively to achieve the best results for both practice and patient.
Clinicians trigger the treatment plan process off and play an essential role in encouraging the patient to return for treatment, but once the patient leaves the practice we need to rely on a professional team approach with effective communication, procedures and practice systems to welcome them back.
To discuss, review or implement effective treatment follow-up procedures for your practice, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and take a look at my website http://www.yourdentalmanager.co.uk/support.html