Emergency calls from your patients and potential patients can be frustrating for dental practices—but they don’t need to be!
They can be a great practice builder and can pave the way for you to create “raving fans” of your practice and your team. Like anything else in a business, they need to be approached strategically. Have a plan and understand when to deviate from the plan.
The key to success for including dental emergencies in your day is to treat them as professionally as you can, without alienating your already-scheduled patients.
Let’s look at some strategies that you can employ starting immediately.
Determine what you will always provide at the initial appointment
We know that some emergencies are simply reassuring a patient or perhaps adjusting a high filling, and other emergencies require treatment.
How can you know what these emergencies will be? You can’t! So how can you properly schedule time to care for that patient? You can’t!
Assistants would not have the time available to set up properly for the procedure, and you likely have other patients scheduled in other chairs. And, do you know if the patient is prepared to pay for treatment rendered today?
If you determine what will always be provided at the first emergency appointment and the time needed, the scheduling coordinator will always know how and what to schedule for that initial appointment.
The dental treatment coordinator can prepare the patient for payment expectation for the emergency, the assistant can provide the diagnostic information you might need, and you will have the time to evaluate the patient and build trust and rapport.
Many practices determine that 30 or 40 minutes is appropriate for emergencies.
Carve out time for dental emergencies
If you handle several dental emergencies a day (whether it is every day you are open or only specific days), set aside time in your schedule for these patients.
Because you would not schedule other patients during this time, this means you are holding places in your schedule for someone to fill.
If an associate is growing their patient family in your practice or if you have significant time open in your schedule, then holding these time slots might not be necessary.
Ensure the patient has a clear understanding of their balance due today
It is disrespectful to move forward without providing this information to the patient; make no assumptions about what they want or can afford. Also, the patient should not assume that you will do the work for free or bill them when the insurance pays.
Your dental financial coordinator needs to present the financial expectations and obligations, and obtain agreement from the patient. Make sure to use the word “today” when discussing payment; again, don’t assume.
I heard an excellent treatment plan presentation from a dental business manager, and the patient agreed to having the scan taken and to making the investment. But then, the patient walked out without paying her $295 bill! The problem occurred because the team member never used the word “today” when discussing payment.
Never inconvenience any patient that is already on your schedule
If the patient who scheduled this appointment four weeks ago must wait, either in the reception area or in the back, you are training them that you do not respect their time. Therefore, it becomes impossible for you to ask them to respect yours. It only takes once.
Even if they accept your explanation that there was an emergency, you teach the patient that emergencies always take precedence over scheduled time.
Once a doctor asked me why it was important not to make the patient wait if they were still getting out on time. Great question! My response would be, ”Because if I had to wait 20 minutes while you did a filling for someone, I could have been out of here 20 minutes ago!” It’s all about respect.
Treating dental emergencies is a wonderful way to build a practice, build trust and rapport, and generate additional production on the day’s schedule. It does not have to be chaotic and stressful. Have your plan, train the team on the plan, and revisit at the team meetings—asking what works and what does not.
Develop a list of open, non-leading questions to be asked on the phone so your business team can triage the patient when they call. Identify what verbal skills to use with the patient to help them understand what will and won’t happen at that first appointment.
Your patient family will be happy, your team will be happy, and this leads to less stress for you!
Meet the Author
With over 25 years of experience in the dental industry, Andrea Greer, RDH, BS has led practices from many positions: dental assistant, hygienist, office manager, Dentrix trainer, consultant, and speaker.
Founder of On Point Dental Consulting, she approaches each practice uniquely to develop workflows that reduce stress and advance patient communication. Andrea is gifted in connection and engagement with audience members and working to develop leadership in teams.
Visit www.OnPoint.Consulting for more information on dental office management.