I’m a big fan of the magazine Real Simple. My favorite is the ‘New uses for old things’ section where they take something you use every day for one thing – and then come up with a unique way to utilize this item. Here are the Hall of Fame favorites by Real Simple just for fun.
Positive survey responses as consistent staff praise
Seems like most dental practices are using email surveys for their patients – through Dentrix’s eCentral, DemandForce, etc. So, what do you do with all the responses? Here’s an idea – if the patient specifically names a dentist or staff person, then have the secretary put a big smiley face on the top of the printed survey & stick it in that person’s inbox. What a ray of sunshine into the day of a dentist, hygienist, assistant or secretary! (And it doesn’t cost a dime!)
Patient complaints as practice improvement ideas
This is one of my favorites. In fact, I’ve written a full article about this one. By creating a form to document the patient’s side of the story, then interviewing the staff/dentist to hear their side of the story – the office manager can almost always discover an opportunity to improve. I just handled a patient complaint last week where the patient was upset after an upper arch scaling/root planing procedure. After talking with him and the hygienist, I realized the clinical care was well done, but the communication was fuzzy because the hygienist skipped using our standard handout that explains STM since he only had one arch involved. Plus, the secretary didn’t make solid financial arrangements. Two opportunities to improve (and avoid the 20 minute rant at the front desk by the patient at check out) out of one patient complaint. Voila!
Patients that unsubscribe from your email program as customized follow up targets
Occasionally, patients will unsubscribe from your email survey system. When this happens, DemandForce sends me an email letting me know the name of the patient. Instead of looking at this as a lost patient, I created a customized letter that we email to this patient – we include last visit dates, mention outstanding treatment, ask if they’ve found a new dentist or are delaying for financial reasons, and offer to answer questions or schedule an appointment. Once, I saw an acquaintance of mine unsubscribe and I quickly shot her an email saying that I saw she unsubscribed and I hoped we hadn’t upset her – and was there anything I could do to smooth things out? She called me back within minutes and rescheduled her appointment and all was well. You can save your patients from walking out the back door too.
Patient stories as blog posts
Everybody tells stories in a dental practice. “Did you see the amount of build up on that guy? I heard he hasn’t been to a dentist in 12 years?! Check out this picture!” or “Come check out the guy in room 3. He’s hot!” When you get a good story, write it up, snap a photo and share it on your blog. The cute 4 year old “assisting” at Mom’s appointment with gloves and a mask – that’s pure gold on your blog and Facebook account. Catching patients who are happy with your services and raving about you to their hygienist, before/after pictures of successful whitening cases, or patients that have been in the local newspaper – these are all opportunities for content on your blog.
Old computers no longer useful in the practice as staff donations
I have 37 computers in our practice, so at least every couple years I’ll have a computer that’s just too slow for the staff to deal with. When I get a new one, I’ll evaluate the old and if it’s still functional, then I’ll offer it to the staff for free. Someone might like to have an extra PC for their kids homework? This is great for staff morale and again, costs nothing.
Dentrix database of patients as target-marketing mecca
Your dental practice management software isn’t just a home for your patient’s name, address and insurance information – as they come in for treatment, cleanings, STM, emergencies, extractions, etc. you’re gaining valuable information that you can use for marketing. You already run reports to follow up on recall and collections, but think more creatively about this database – you can find patients that had an extraction charged out – and then contact them with information on replacing missing teeth. You can look up patients who started an STM, but never completed it – and have your hygienist call to reactivate them. You can look for new patient emergencies and invite them to return for a comprehensive exam. The ideas are endless!
Requests for donations as new patient marketing opportunities
Do you get hit up for donating to beauty pageants? Sports teams? Church mission trips? There’s no way to financially support every single request, so here’s a spin that allows you to say yes to every request – offer to give them a gift certificate for a free dental cleaning/exam that they can raffle off. They keep the money from their raffle (the value is about $120, so it’s a nice offer) and you may get a new patient, plus the free marketing that comes from their promotion. Plus, you have an easy response to previously uncomfortable situations.
CareCredit denials as ‘layaway for teeth’ candidates
In the last year, I’ve been approached by two different companies offering to sell me new financial services for patients denied by CareCredit. These guys are smart – they’re definitely onto the ‘new uses for old things’ concept. In my opinion, they’re just too expensive – instead we created a new financial arrangement option for our patients called “Pay as you go”. The way this works is that the patient can choose any amount they want to pay that fits into their budget and we set up an automatic funds transfer with the bank, once they build up enough credit (we want to be paid 2/3rds down) then we schedule their next visit. This allows my secretary team to never tell a patient no due to finances – we always can say yes! Although we may say ‘not yet’!
Paper printed on one side as internal recycled paper and notepaper
Okay, this one’s low hanging fruit – everyone should do it. We print dozens of schedules, walkout statements, insurance claims, treatment plans – as internal documents. So, we set up an inbox beside the copier/printer to collect all paper that’s been printed on one side only – and as the office manager, I fill my printer with this recycled paper because almost every document I produce is internal!
Failures as continuous improvement projects
Running a dental practice can be tough. For years our practice has been working to increase the number of new patients, to improve our case acceptance, and to increase the hygienist’s production. Starting in 2007, we watched our measures get worse in several areas year after year. Since we share our performance with staff, this can also be tough on morale. The key though is to recognize that although we weren’t hitting our goals, we knew where the problems were – we kept working at them and now we’re starting to see some improvement. By far our best idea last year was targeting our new patient emergencies – we changed the form used by the assistants to run the tests to assess the patient, we retrained the assistants to use this form properly, we added a bonus system, we shared results every month with the team and we promoted all this on our website. The last 2 months we have added over 50 new patients to the practice that started as emergencies! Lemons to lemonade. This success also motivates us not to give up on other challenges that we still haven’t figured out yet.
As 2012 wraps up, it becomes an old thing. As we’re ringing the bells into January – be sure to use your experiences, your lessons, your data to set your new vision for the future and find new uses for old things.