Reconnecting with Wayward Dental Patients

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Once a month, we teleconference with a group of dedicated Patient Care Coordinators, Facilitators – team members whose primary role is to work with patients and help them make choices about their care. During our Facilitator Study Club, these smart women come up with some great case studies for our learning and contribute great ideas for being more successful with patients.

Our November discussion had to do with the most appropriate ways to follow-up with patients without being aggressive or overbearing. They wanted to know; when is too much? And what are the most effective ways to connect with patients outside the practice? What came out of our discussion were some helpful ideas that I wanted to pass along.

First, what may be appropriate for one patient may not work for another patient. There are some generational and lifestyle differences that may determine the way in which a patient responds. For instance, an older person might appreciate a personal phone call. The elderly woman who lives with her cats might be much more receptive to a call and return a phone message than the busy single mom who works full-time. The graduate student may respond to a text or email while your voicemail message will go unanswered.

How do you know what might work best and when?  You ask – preferably at the beginning of the relationship. Simply state that there will be times when you will want to follow-up with them about treatment or appointments and ask what he or she prefers. If treatment isn’t scheduled on the day the patient is in the practice, ask them when, how, and how often they wish you to follow-up.

If you are following up in the hope that your patient schedules treatment, it will require more than a phone call or text.  We all have busy lives and forget about things so you will want to provide more details than simply; “We are concerned about your dental care and are calling to schedule your treatment”. An effective tool, regardless of your patient’s age or lifestyle, is a letter. Patients often don’t easily comprehend examination findings at the time they are discovered, and usually aren’t presented with a review in a way that is easy for them to understand. The environment for learning about their condition is less than optimal. The office offers distractions. They may be fearful, worried about finances, or not very motivated at the time. And even though your examination may have been quite thorough and engaging, what was discussed is often lost with the passage of time. A letter with a simple recap can help jog their memory and encourage them to reconsider your recommendations. We have also found that although they may not respond the very day they receive it, the letter rarely goes in the trash. They set it aside for reference when they are ready to take action.

The key things to remember when composing the letter are:

1) Be sincere

2) Make it personal and relevant

3) Write it in easy-to-understand language

4) Encourage action

It needn’t be long and detailed. The point is to recap where you left off with the patient, what they expressed concern about/interest in (OUTCOME), and the implications of doing nothing. Also, hand write the address when you send it. This insures that they will open it. Here’s an example:

Patient follow-up letter

Notice that the letter asks the patient to call the practice.  This hands the responsibility back to the patient. Even though the letter encourages the patient to call the practice, you may opt to make a follow-up call/text/email about a week or two after the letter is sent. A simple, “Just following up on the letter I sent you” will do, with an invitation to call if they wish to make an appointment or have additional questions.

Give it a try and see whether this helps bring some results. Let me know what happens.

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