Three steps to get patients to say “Yes”
By Richard Moore
With first-time case acceptance rates for dental procedures as low as 35 percent for some procedures and providers, implementing strategies to increase the acceptance rate result is an immediate financial benefit to any dental group.
Although the dentist is responsible for development of a treatment plan and most often explaining the benefits of treatment to the patient, all team members play a role in case acceptance. For example, an office manager’s implementation of processes and tools that support financial discussions are critical to a patient’s decision. This financial component is especially important as patients are often fearful of the dollar sign behind their care. To ensure all team members have access to information that can overcome a patient’s concern about the affordability of treatment, there are three key steps office managers can take to increase the likelihood that a patient will say “yes” before leaving the office.
Step No. 1: Consider the patient’s perspective
The first step to improving case acceptance is to evaluate the encounter from the patient’s perspective. While the patient may have come to the office seeking treatment for a dental problem of which they are aware, sometimes the need for treatment is discovered during a routine hygienist visit – when the condition is asymptomatic. By providing systems that enable staff to access benefits information, office managers have the unique opportunity to make sure patients have all of the information they need to accept treatment recommendations seamlessly from exam room to front office. This extra support in offering information around proposed treatment helps a patient feel that the choice is in their hands, which helps them be more comfortable with the overall approach.
Step No. 2: Relieve financial concerns
Financial barriers are tricky, which is why they are the second – if not sometimes the primary – reason patients don’t accept treatment. Once the dentist has presented the need for further treatment and explained the benefits versus consequences of no treatment, financial counselors can help patients reach their decision to proceed by providing accurate information about the total cost of treatment and the patient’s portion of that cost.
Although benefits verification is a challenging and time-consuming process in any practice, the volume of patients seen in a group practice increases the need to streamline processes to verify eligibility and benefits. Implementing technology that enables automatic verification of benefits to produce accurate estimates at the time of the patient visit improves the team’s ability to educate patients and answer questions about the cost of their care.
Because few people make major decisions without considering financial implications, and many must choose among a variety of financial responsibilities, be ready to offer options that can make the cost of treatment more affordable to the patient. In addition to flexible payment plans or financing, group practice teams should also be able to identify scheduling opportunities that maximize benefits in a coverage calendar year. For example, when dental team members have information that shows how arranging treatment earlier rather than later provides the most insurance coverage because the deductible is met for the year, the patient is more likely to schedule the next visit before leaving the office.
Step No. 3: Communicate confidently and effectively
Getting patients to accept treatment recommendations requires consistent communications between the group practice team and patients throughout the process. The dentist presents the plan, the hygienist and dental technician reinforce the recommendations and offer to answer additional questions, and finally, the financial counselor sums up all of the information – clinical and financial – while presenting patients with options and offering to answer more questions. Conversations with a variety of people are necessary to reinforce the validity of the treatment recommendation and reassure patients that they are making the right decision to proceed – office managers being the backbone for ensuring each piece happens as smoothly as possible. While a consistent approach to conversations with patients improves case acceptance, it is up to the office manager to ensure the process is designed to produce the best results.
“One way office managers can identify best practices for their specific practice is to monitor case acceptance rates for team members,” says Lisa Blair, operations manager for Inspire Dental Group. “Reviewing data to determine which team members excel at patient conversations and converting treatment recommendations into case acceptances, supports process changes throughout the practice.” This enables the strategies that work well to be shared through specific examples and tips from co-workers in training sessions and workflow and patient communication strategies to be standardized to create cohesive, patient-centered conversations that lead to case acceptance.
In addition to technology that streamlines workflow to verify benefits and produce accurate estimates, processes or tools that prompt follow up with patients who want additional time to think about treatment recommendations is necessary. “With multiple providers and a variety of dental team members working with a high volume of patients, it is easy to lose a patient in a busy practice,” says Blair. “Setting checkpoints or alerts and auditing follow-up activities on a daily or twice-weekly basis ensures that all patients receive a timely telephone call asking if they need more information or are ready to schedule their treatment.”
While there are several factors that contribute to case acceptance, an office manager can set the foundation for success with technology and processes that make sure team members have the best financial information. Combining technology with consistent, caring communications throughout the patient encounter ensures the patient receives the most complete information – clinical and financial – to support a decision to accept the dentist’s recommendations.
About the author
Richard Moore is president of OneMind Health, @OneMindHealth.