Case acceptance depends on patient encounters


JoAn Majors discusses working as a team toward case acceptance

Before we get too far into this article, let’s first agree that there is an exception to every rule. Let’s agree that you can find doctors who do their own presentations. Can we also agree that it is unlikely that doctors are answering their own phone for that onboarding process, prequalifying the patient (or family member) with outside financing if needed, or taking any initial necessary X-rays or scans? Then we can probably also agree that there could be hours of opportunity for a team member to preheat your mad skills or incredible personality, right? We’ve seen tremendous increases in case acceptance and a better patient experience when your people function as a team.

Let’s take a moment to review how a patient is often onboarded in the practice(s). When those who answer the phone can function as marketing representatives or advocates for your exceptional clinical skills and strengths, it is comforting for patients. It allows the patients to hear from someone who they perceive will not directly benefit financially from the treatment they may choose. In addition, having team members with the ability to ask simple yet open-ended questions before you see them gives you a window into their concerns or desires they might not share as quickly in the treatment room. White-coat syndrome truly exists, and if your team can glean some insight to share in the morning huddle, it can be a game changer for the patient experience and case acceptance.

On the other hand, if you have team members on the phone who take only the essential information for an appointment, they need to be trained in customer service interaction skills. For instance, if we ask first about “the insurance,” we become the office about the insurance. If we take time to build rapport, we become the office about creating a relationship first. I’m talking about transactional questions versus transformational questions. The heart of the soft skills we teach factually increase case acceptance. It is much more complicated and more work for you to create rapport with basics than if you start by sharing something your team learned that you now can repeat to the patient. In that case, the patient feels as though you listened, which is much different than our counterparts in the medical community. The patient will often have a person on the phone, a receptionist for intake, a medical assistant, and even a doctor who all ask a similar version of this question: Now what are you here for today? You can choose how or if you want the patient experience to be memorable. This is the bedrock piece and the start of team case acceptance.

Today soft skills and the culture of your office matter more than ever in the delivery of care and the referral of other patients.

These are basic beginnings that move those key performance indicators (KPIs) in the direction you want when it comes to case acceptance. I often hear people in our industry talk about revenue producers, and they rarely, if ever, mention the people on the phone who quite frankly took the time to get them in the chair of a provider. I believe the people answering the phone are, in fact, revenue generators — or they are not! I’ve worked with groups and call centers with no idea how many patients they lost because of that initial call, and what was not asked. The few transformational questions should be first, not last, and honestly don’t generate yes or no answers. Again, if you want to be the practice about “the plan,” then keep asking those same mundane questions that miss almost 50% of callers from converting to patients. The numbers don’t lie, but the numbers of callers that don’t convert are rarely in the mix you measure.

I shared an article in Implant Practice US (2021), titled “I’m not the doctor but …”1 This is one of the tools in our toolbox to preheat the services the providers offer in a very general way. No pressure, no-nonsense, just information about what might be possible if prospective patients choose your practice. Understanding that the callers most often doesn’t have the same knowledge of dentistry allows us to lose the preconceived notion that we shouldn’t repeat the treatment opportunities for the patients. We are assuming (which could be problematic) that you have a morning huddle and make the time to share the little things that can make a big difference for these implant patients. Taking the time upfront keeps you from having to go fishing for facts when they arrive. Give patients who call ample time to build rapport or find someone else to answer your phone. You can’t afford not to if having the patients show up to your office matters in the end.

Another example of how we use a team to engage the patient in case acceptance is what we refer to as “overhear psychology.” Oddly enough, people often believe what they overhear more than what they are directly told. This is the art of having patients overhear something that can impact their decision or understanding of what is happening. In another article for Implant Practice US (2019), titled “Comfort, function, and beauty,”2 I shared how we ask patients to rate these in order of importance with their treatment options. Once the patient has marked a No. 1 on any of these, we take note and use this every time we can. Take, for example, a patient who marks “beauty” as No. 1. As a clinical assistant, while the doctor is doing the exam or reviewing the scan, I will ask several questions that are not directly for the patient, but you can bet he/she is listening to us. For example, I’d likely ask, “Dr. Wonderful, what is the esthetic opportunity for her/his treatment?” The doctor might reply, “you know JoAn, I think we can get a 9.5 on the esthetic outcome.” The patient’s ears perk up, and you’ll often see a smile, or the paitient might ask if it means he/she will finally have a beautiful smile.

After almost 4 decades in the industry, we’ve learned that if you have the support of your team when it comes to case acceptance, the numbers go up. Period. This article isn’t for you if you do all the cases you present. It probably isn’t for you if you have someone reviewing all your incoming calls, and you know that you are converting all those shoppers to patients. Not for you if you take that personal nugget of information gleaned in the beginning and carry it into the conversation as if you were the one on the phone and heard it yourself. It really isn’t for you if you and everyone on your team learn in the morning huddle that Ms. Smith is a recent widow who took care of her husband with Alzheimer’s for almost 10 years and neglected her own care. She is ready to restore her smile, so she can get back to life in her church and community. She is even open to meeting someone to spend some time with, maybe even travel again. Oh, and by the way, we are not on her DD plan, and she understands that there will be a difference in our fees but feels as though this was a big difference in our phone call versus the others she has called on the plan. If this is the kind of data you are getting before you step into the room with the patient, you (and your team) likely already know how to use this data to have Ms. Smith feel as though she is in the right place, and can create instant rapport and the trust she needs to move forward.

The team can play a vital role in your ability to use those clinical skills and do more of the kind of dentistry you want. This only happens when intentional, measured, and transformational questions become second nature to you and your team. Today soft skills and the culture of your office matter more than ever in the delivery of care and the referral of other patients. If you think you need more marketing and new patients, first ensure you fully serve the ones calling and coming to your office at the highest level. If you aren’t adequately taking care of the ones you have, more patients aren’t the answer. You’ll have the front door open and the back door open at the same time. Tilman Fertitta wrote a book called Shut Up and Listen! He is an entrepreneur who owns many restaurants among other things, and he shared something in this book that I will never forget: “There are no spare customers.” While I realize that we call ours patients, clients, guests, and rarely customers, the concept is one you should think through. If all the people who call your office(s) could be your next best patients, are you and your team doing everything you can to serve them in an extraordinary way?


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