How can fee-for-service practices compete with insurance-driven practices?

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Recently, an online dental discussion group brought up this topic:

How can fee-for-service practices compete with those who are in network?

There were a lot of ideas from the group like:

Have the dentist call the new patient the night before to say she is looking forward to meeting them.

Get up from the desk and walking around to greet patients as they enter.

Recognize special events in their lives.

Acknowledge when you are behind schedule.

Provide stellar customer service.

All good suggestions. But if it comes down to numbers, you won’t be able to compete simply on that level. There are TWO DISTINCTIONS above all else that will give you an edge.

The FIRST DISTINCTION is to identify what makes you distinctive. What do you provide that your insurance-driven colleagues can’t or don’t. Are there services that you are particularly known for such as TMJ therapy, sleep apnea solutions or sedation dentistry? Is your specialization one that is unique and notable? Do you offer second opinion consultations? Do you have a comfort dog at the practice?Without something compelling, you are just another dentist. Whatever that distinction is, name it and claim it. Identify who your audience is and above all else, remember the second distinction.

SECOND DISTINCTION: Build your entire practice around this question:”How can we make our patients lives better than when they first walked in?”  You see, no one goes to the dentist for no reason. People have complicated lives and one of the last things on their list is you, the dentist. They only contact you when they believe you can help solve a problem they have – then they want you to go away. And their expectations are usually low because their previous experiences (in an insurance-driven office) were probably less than stellar in part because no one cared to learn about what was important to them. So, the more you and your team develop exceptional behavioral and problem-solving skills, the more you will learn about your patients and what they care about. Everything you do from there is built around that objective: “How can we make your life better than when you walked in?” Identify the answer to this question and remember it throughout each stage of the process. Provide individualized care, fashioned just for them and keep going back to what problem, in quality of life terms, you are helping them solve.

All the other things such as calling patients to find out how they are feeling, acknowledging birthdays or asking about their vacation, even filing insurance on their behalf are nice but it won’t keep a patient from switching practices because they have insurance.

What will make the difference is your unrelenting desire to solve your patient’s problem so they feel good about the experience and can go on with their lives. That is what will distinguish you from everyone else in the marketplace and for a lot of people, that is worth the difference they are willing to pay from what insurance will cover.  It’s really very easy once all the systems and the right people with the right skills are supporting you.

We help dentists evolve their practice to this new model.

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High Cost of Doing Nothing Part 1: Marketing Basics for Dentists

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Herb’s practice was struggling. His new patient flow had dwindled and after practicing for 30 years, he had become resistant to change. The thought of promoting his practice went against his long-held beliefs that it cheapened the profession. So, he did nothing.

On the other side of town, Sam had built her practice from the ground up. That was two years ago. And while she used her street smarts to market her practice, she wasn’t feeling confident that her time and money were being used in the most effective way.

High cost of doing nothingThe simple truth is, if you don’t tell people who you are and what you do, they will not become your patients. In today’s marketplace, there is a very high cost for doing nothing.

And while marketing is not usually the dentist’s area of expertise, it is essential to have a strategic marketing plan. Here are some basic rules that every dentist should know and use to guide their decisions for implementing a solid marketing plan. Successful marketing comprises of a combination of five key components:

REACH – Target your message to the specific group or groups you wish to attract.
If you are a pediatric or family dentist, you want to focus your efforts on targeting and appealing to young families. On the other hand, if you specialize in exquisite implant-supported dentures, you will want to reach out to affluent seniors. The more specific you can identify your niche in the marketplace, the more targeted your reach.

FREQUENCY – Send messages and send them often.
Each message or “impression” builds on the last. Consumers rarely experience one exposure or message and remember your name or what you do. It requires multiple impressions for a potential patient to connect with who you are and what you offer.

CONSISTENCY – All messages should speak with one voice.
Focus on identifying your niche and brand and tie together your messages with visuals and content that are similar. One logo, one font and color palette, one positioning statement, consistent approach and style.

VARIETY – Send your marketing message through a number of different avenues.
Identify unique opportunities in your community to raise awareness of your practice and cross-promote whenever you can. This will help increase your REACH and FREQUENCY. For instance, sponsor a charity event or a sports team, billboard presence, host a talk radio program, health fairs, personal letter of introduction to new residents, targeted print publications or magazines, collaborative relationships with other businesses, active community involvement such as Rotary and Chamber of Commerce.

TOP-OF-THE-MIND PRESENCE – Connect with patients when they are likely to need you. It is difficult to know or plan for your messages to connect with people at the very moment they decide they need a service that you offer. But if you are committed to a campaign that focuses on REACH, FREQUENCY, CONSISTENCY and VARIETY, you are more likely to connect.
So, when someone is “in the market” for your services and they either search online for or come across your information, they will think, “I know them. They are familiar. They are known for (fill in the blank). I’ll give them a call.” It is familiar to them because of the marketing foundation you have previously laid.

IMPLEMENTATION
You must identify goals, and develop a plan and timeline for your marketing. This will likely require the support of a team member who is fully capable of helping you in this endeavor. Make sure this is included in her job description and she is given the time, tools, and authority to make it happen. If you don’t have the resources on your team, reach out to a local marketing specialist to help you deploy your marketing plans.

EVALUATION
When you are developing your marketing strategy, also plan for evaluating the results of your efforts to insure you are making good use of your investment of time and money. How will you assess the effectiveness? What indicators will you use and at what stage will you review the campaign and make course corrections, if necessary?

CONVERSION
If you spend time, effort and money to implement a solid marketing plan, you better have your internal house in order AHEAD OF TIME.

This is HUGE. You want to make sure that when the target patient you attracted through your marketing, calls and visits your practice, the experience matches what they have come to learn about you. If it isn’t exceptional, you’ve wasted your time and resources. Many practices make the mistake of spending large budgets on marketing their practice only to lose potential patients at the beginning of the relationship because their staff lacks the skills to connect with them in significant and meaningful ways.  In my opinion, this is the most common marketing mistake made!

Contact me to receive a marketing questionnaire to help you clarify what you are doing now and what you should focus on. And if you would like help reviewing your systems, communication skills, practice perception and marketing strategy, I invite you to call me for a more in-depth conversation.

Top 5 professional habits you should commit to in 2014

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With every new year, comes an overwhelming amount of commentary on new year resolutions and goals. A lot of them are common sense no brainers mixed with an equal amount of recommendations we know are unattainable. Reflecting upon 2013, I would like to shift the conversation to some things I believe have become overlooked.

I have discovered that many people have forgotten the basics. It annoys me when the professionals I work with don’t afford me these common courtesies. If you want to gain respect from your colleagues, patients, customers and employees and you want them to offer you the same respect in return, it is absolutely essential that you follow these very basic rules of business etiquette in 2014.

Here are my TOP 5 No-Brainers every business professional should commit to in the new year:

Number 5: Don’t interrupt.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule and if you made it through high school, you can surely figure out what those are. I’m talking about people who cut you off in mid-sentence because they believe what they have to say is more important than what you are expressing. It indicates they are not listening. It comes off as rude, disrespectful and confrontational. If you are guilty of this, listen more, talk less. If someone else violates this rule, let them know you weren’t finished with your thought.

Number 4: Do what you say and say what you do.
If you tell someone you are going to do something, don’t just talk about it. Do it! If you aren’t sure you will follow through, don’t commit to it. How many times have you been disappointed by someone who has said they were going to do something then dropped the ball? And it adds additional insult when they don’t give you the courtesy of letting you know, which leads me to 4a:

4a) If you commit to something then discover it was unrealistic or you can’t follow through, own it.   It’s as simple as saying you’ve discovered you’ve bitten off more than you can chew or your time commitments have gotten the best of you. You will continue to earn respect from your peers, co-workers, and employees when you are honest with them about your shortcomings.

Number 3: If you change your mind, say so.
Everyone has that right. But changing your mind and not telling us is not OK. People will have different expectations and you will inevitably disappoint them – possibly make them angry – if you don’t tell them your thinking has changed. We will continue to think you have your original mindset unless you tell us otherwise.

Number 2: If you are in a meeting or conversation, DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR CELL PHONE!
We’ve all been on the receiving side of someone who shifts their attention from us to their “next-best friend”. Why would anyone think this is appropriate? This is rude and disrespectful. Period. But it is occurring at epic proportions these days. Just because others engage in this behavior doesn’t mean it’s OK. It says they could care less about what’s happening outside the edges of their smartphone screen – so why should we? Business owners and CEOs can often be the biggest violators of this. Regardless of how important someone is, your time is equally important. If someone does this to you, stop talking until they look up and tell them you’d be happy to continue when they aren’t pre-occupied. Let’s shut this behavior down in 2014.

Number 1: Reply to emails. And do it in a timely manner.
Just like the sign in the public bathroom stall that says; “please flush after use”, this is so basic that I shouldn’t have to mention it. That being said, a large percentage of the emails I send out go unanswered. If email isn’t your thing, tell people up front or simply don’t give out your email address. Otherwise, people expect an acknowledgement or reply – THAT’S WHY WE SEND EMAILS! If you don’t reply, it’s the same as saying you don’t care or the sender isn’t worth your time. Your lack of response indicates your lack of interest which erodes your credibility, regardless of your position or role in any business.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Every one of these has to do with professional courtesy and respect. And if we want people to respect us and behave in a certain way, we have to commit to that behavior ourselves. That is the hallmark of a leader. And yes, these are basic. That’s where we have to begin to build a solid foundation of professionalism, gain respect from others and to further develop our effective communication skills.

Do you have something you would like to add to this list? Let’s start a dialog and spread the word in 2014.

Smile Gallery No-Nos

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What’s a dental web site without good Before and After photos?

But honestly folks, most Smile Galleries, or Results pages or Before and After sections – whatever you call it – they seem to fall short. Most of these pages look like a hot mess and I’ll tell you why.

Most dentists don’t understand why people visit that area of their web site and what those future patients hope to find. I believe it is because most dentists are looking at something entirely different. They are looking at their artistry. Their patients, not so much.  Please understand that what is appealing to you is not necessarily appealing to your patients. Frankly, while the intricate, artistic work you are trying to showcase may impress you and your colleagues, it is lost on most patients. Yes. I said it.

I believe that people look at these pages to imagine what might be possible for them. They want to “dream” and envision how they might look and how their life might be different. They might attract someone and develop a relationship, they may get that promotion, they might develop new-found confidence, maybe begin a whole new career path, or it could be as simple as feeling comfortable enough to smile again, or chew steak, or bite down on an apple. Anything you can do to help them connect with that feeling can encourage them to take that first step.

Here are my Top 3 Before and After No-Nos

No-No #1: Close-ups of just mouths

Detached mouths without faces are not compelling to patients. Besides the teeth, there are other subtle nuances that aren’t so attractive – namely male facial hair. Ugh. It really detracts from the beauty of the dental work. And while the work you’ve performed may be impressive, what they see does little to help patients connect with the benefits. I encourage you to display full faces instead of just mouths. It actually makes the difference even more dramatic and helps bring the humanity to what you do.

No-No #2: Scary Before Images

Clicking on a page and seeing scary Before images may do more to discourage than encourage potential patients – especially those who are fearful. I would prefer seeing beautiful After faces and smiles when I arrive on a Smile Gallery page.

How might they see the Before images to appreciate your work? How cool would it be to “roll over” the beautiful After image to reveal the Before image? I have seen this technique used in the past and it is SO much more impressive! Sadly, I searched my bookmarks and can’t find a single site that features after photos with a before rollover. Why not be the first? If you’ve fashioned your Gallery like this, please, please PLEASE send me a link. I would love to share it with your colleagues.

No-No #3: Anonymous Smiles

Who are these Before and After faces and what are their stories? Think about the impact it would make to include a brief story about their struggles, how they decided to make a change and how, with your help, it has made a difference in their life. This is where the magic can happen for people. Patients are more likely to connect with the quality of life benefits they are hoping to receive with your help. They will read something that makes them think “That’s me!”.  It can give them courage and motivate them to action.

With these three No-Nos in mind, you’ve got roughly a month before the season of self-improvement rolls around: January. Take inventory of your own Smile Gallery and consider if making some changes might better serve your practice and encourage more potential patients to take the next step.

And if you need help coordinating the effort or telling your patient’s stories, give me a call. I can help you make over your smile gallery for greater impact.

My Prediction for 2013

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Good news!  U. S. News and World Report has announced their list of the top jobs (those in greatest demand) for 2013 and topping the list at number one is dentist!  Following in the number ten position is dental hygienist! At the risk of angering some of you, I’m going to say it. No more whining! You can position your practice and seize the market. But you must decide to take a good hard look at your practice and make some improvements.  Look at these FIVE ELEMENTS and ask whether you are making the most of each opportunity:

1) Your Physical plant

Patients have very little in which to judge your expertise or competence and some will assess you by the appearance of your practice. From the exterior and signage to the decor, wall art and clutter, look at your practice with new eyes or ask a third party or professional to give you their honest opinion. And while you must like and be comfortable in your surroundings, the more important issue is who you are targeting and what will appeal to them.

2) How are patients welcomed?

The best investment you can make is to train the team members entrusted with answering the phone and welcoming new AND existing patients. NO AMOUNT OF ADVERTISING OR EXTERNAL MARKETING WILL BENEFIT YOU until your team members learn how to connect with people in the most effective way. The challenge is that you rarely know how your team members are engaging people because you are focused on doing dentistry. Enlist the help of a professional to both assess and train your team appropriately.

3) Work on building relationships

This may sound like a no-brainer but there is more to building a relationship than learning where your patients work, their children’s names or where they went on their last vacation. Everyone who works in the practice must be capable and willing to learn communication skills that will carry your relationships beyond the superficial. This requires learning why patients come to you, what they are asking and expecting of you, and how you can connect with them in ways that help them get what they want. The end result is more patients authorizing more dentistry sooner!

4) Fostering referrals

It stands to reason that if you manage expectations and give patients what they want, they will be happy and continue to come to your practice. Far too often, we don’t ask our best, most satisfied patients for referrals. Do you and your team know the art of asking for referrals in a genuine way? Do you have a referral program that encourages people to voluntarily share their experience in direct and viral ways? Enlist the help of a professional to AMP UP this highly overlooked goldmine.

5) Marketing

For you old-school guys and gals, WAKE UP!  It’s 2013 and if you aren’t getting your business out into the community, you will be left behind. For those of you who have marketing plans in place, now is the time to re-assess their effectiveness.  Keep these three essential elements in mind as you craft your campaigns:

Reach – who you are targeting

Frequency  –  how often you are sending messages out

Top of the Mind Awareness/Familiarity  –  being in the consumer’s mind when they are in the market or have a need

I encourage you to consider more non-traditional means of promoting your practice with a heavy emphasis on education and good-will marketing. Think creatively and out of the box. Don’t rely on a team member to try to implement your marketing when they “have time”. Instead, hire someone who can focus on it.

I predict that if you tackle all five of these goals this year, your practice will SOAR. I would love to help you with each of these areas to make 2013 your greatest year ever and be poised for success for years to come.

Why Dialing for Dollars Doesn’t Work

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Recently, ProSynergy added a new phone line. As you probably know, there is a period of time before the number gets added to the “Do Not Call” list, and during this time, we have received more than our fair share of marketing calls. First of all, the callers struggle with pronouncing my name. With the last name, “Head”, you would be surprised how many times they get it wrong!  They are hesitant, sound like they are reading a script or have rehearsed a couple of lines, and just want to get to the next call. I want them to move on too!

Why do these types of calls annoy us so much? I find them impersonal, the timing is never good and what they have to say is irrelevant to me. In many ways, follow up calls to patients are very much like telemarketing. Why else would we call it “Dialing for Dollars”?

Because the economy is not as good as we would like and people’s financial situations are challenging –  many patients may be choosing to delay dental care they perceive as not vital or that can wait until times get better. Others may be putting off even basic care that is not urgent. Of course, we want our patients to re-think that strategy and in some cases there is a lot of pressure being put on staff, usually the “front desk” or the scheduling coordinator, to call and “get people in.” Thus, the DENTAL TELEMARKETER is born.

Team members,who experience the frustration of calling patients and not getting them to answer and leaving endless voice mails without returned calls are likely to question whether this futile effort is worth their time. And they would be right to wonder.

Let’s examine this a little closer. The first thing you must understand is that your financial anxiety cannot be laid on your patients. When dentists get fearful about the “holes” in the schedule they put pressure on the staff to fill them – as if it were merely a matter of calling the thousands of people who have been dying to get in but who have been put on hold by the practice. Let’s be honest. The only people who will respond to this kind of approach are those who have asked either to come in sooner or be seen at a time more convenient to them. It is a wanted call that delivers a wanted service. No problem here.

But for those other patients who, for one reason or another have chosen to put their care on hold, the call – leave a message – rinse – repeat approach will do the opposite. It will discourage people from following up with you when their circumstances do change.

Let’s think like our patient for a moment; Things are a little tight right now. You have some dental concerns and Dr. Baker has offered some solutions. You agree with his recommendations and you’d like to proceed but you heard layoffs are coming at work. You share this with him and, buying a little time, you mentally put it on the back burner.

Two months later, although you didn’t get laid off, your car is towed to the repair shop for some needed repairs at about the same time you get a message on your voicemail from Barbara, Dr. Baker’s receptionist:

“Donald, this is Barbara from Dr. Baker’s office. I’m calling to see if you’re ready to schedule those crowns yet. We are concerned about your dental health and what could happen if you neglected this needed care. Please give me a call to make your appointment.”

Ugh. The car thing is something you hadn’t planned in your budget and since your teeth aren’t hurting, you’ll have to wait on the dental work.   A month later, you see on caller ID that it’s Dr. Baker’s office again. The voice message she leaves pretty much says the same thing. You’re still paying off the car repairs and now your visit with the hygienist is coming up. If you go, you know they will ask you again to schedule the crowns and you really aren’t up to having that conversation. You begin to feel guilty because you hate to disappoint Dr. Baker but you don’t know how to tell him “no” without hurting his feelings.

Then you decide to call after hours one night to cancel your hygiene appointment saying that something has come up and you will have to call them back to reschedule. Now you are avoiding the calls to reschedule your hygiene appointment!

Crown call. Hygiene call. Crown call. And you can pretty much guess they are not happy with you now. You ignore them all.

Several months later, work is going well. In fact, you’ve gotten a promotion. The bill for the car repairs is long gone. You are ready to take care of your mouth but you are so embarrassed that you just don’t know how you can face Barbara or Dr. Baker or your hygienist. Instead, you decide to start fresh and call a new dentist.

Another patient lost.

You can begin to understand how the method of calling, reminding and finally, nagging and guilting has caused another patient to leave. And it could easily have been avoided with a different, more effective approach.

Consider a personalized letter outlining the patient’s concerns, the doctor’s findings and recommendations and what the implications of the decision to delay might mean for them. By thoughtfully putting it in writing, it provides a relevant, clear opportunity for your patient to safely re-engage when the time is right. A detailed example follows:

Dear Donald,

We have been thinking about you lately, and since a bit of time has elapsed since we last spoke, we wanted to give you a written review of what is pending. You may remember that we made some recommendations when we saw you last April. At that time, you were quite concerned about the appearance of your front teeth, the food that was packing between your back teeth and the puffiness you were experiencing in your gums. We suggested the following:

*Porcelain veneers on your four upper front teeth which would replace the stained old fillings and eliminate the new decay that has formed around those fillings. If you choose this option, we will be able to not only stop the disease that is progressing but also create a beautiful appearance for your front teeth. We are concerned that delaying this will only make the situation more difficult to treat, and, of course, we would wish to avoid that if possible.

*An aggressive approach to battling the gum disease you have developed. We are as concerned as you are about this ongoing problem, and we believe the most appropriate clinical approach is to begin treating the disease before it gets worse (which you know it inevitably will do, if left untreated) and causes other problems you wish to avoid. The treatment would consist of four sessions with Jean, our dental hygienist who would deliver thorough yet comfortable therapy. We remain concerned that in delaying this treatment, your disease may progress and be harder to treat.

*Gold crowns for those four teeth in the back which are allowing food to be caught and annoying you to no end. New crowns will solve this problem by making sure there is enough space between teeth for you to clean yet not so much as to allow normal chewing to pack food into the gaps. While this is not the most pressing situation for you, this situation can contribute to further decay and gum problems if left unaddressed.

Donald, we certainly want to offer you the right help at the right time. From a clinical perspective, the time is now, for none of these problems, or the conditions that are causing them, will get better on their own.

Perhaps there are some personal issues which have made it difficult for you to choose this care for yourself right now. If that is the case, we may be able to suggest an interim approach to getting your disease under control until you can opt for the more long-lasting and durable solutions. Of course, we can only help you if share with us what you are thinking now, so I hope you will take this letter as encouragement to call for an appointment to re-evaluate your condition and strategize with us.

I have asked Barbara to give you a call in a few days to follow up and learn what you are thinking at this point, so I do hope you will respond to her call.

Best regards,

Dr. Randy Baker

PS – Please let us know if this is not the right time for you so we can look for another approach which might work better. While we have expertise on clinical matters, only you know what will fit into your life. For these reasons, you will always be in charge of the timing that will best suit you.

More work? Yes.  Lost patient? Highly unlikely.

This approach to contacting and maintaining an open link of communication with your patients will give you a better chance of helping them when they are ready.

Dialing for dollars? Leave that to the telemarketers.


			

Practice Perception Part II: What messages might your staff be sending?

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In the first installment of Practice Perception, I asked; Does your physical plant represent your practice mission? We looked at the elements that contribute to painting a fuller picture of what your practice is about and is often the primary way patients can assess who you are and your level of professionalism and expertise.

Of course, there are other factors that contribute to your practice image.  One of the most powerful influencers is your staff. They can be a primary reason why patients are attracted to or end up leaving your practice.

Inside the practice, you certainly would want your team to be on their best behavior and represent you in a positive light. However, you can’t assume they will behave or act appropriately without being specific about your expectations. Make sure your employee manual contains specific guidelines for things as basic as the following:

PERSONAL APPEARANCE – include specifics on what you will or will not tolerate regarding: jewelry, piercings, tattoos, hair, personal hygiene, oral health, cologne or perfume, or tobacco smoke or smell.  

CLOTHING – if you supply uniforms, this should not be an issue. If you don’t, you must be specific about what is and is not appropriate.

CHATTER – quite often, dentists complain that the staff banter gets in the way of patient care. Patients who hear staff talking amongst themselves while they sit idly waiting will feel ignored. The hard and fast rule should be that the content of staff conversations in places outside the staff break room should be focused exclusively on patient care. In addition, remind your staff there should be no bad-mouthing or negative comments to other staff members or patients at any time.

PRIVACY – and of course, any conversations relating to patient care should be private and discussed in a place where they would not risk being overheard by others.

TEXTING, CELL PHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA – team members gripe all the time about patients who use their phones during their appointments. Imagine how patients feel when a staff member diverts their attention from patients to text or use their phone or check their Facebook. It is rude and inappropriate. Period. Patients should not see or hear a staff member’s personal phone – not even a buzz when it’s placed on silent.

You cannot stop team members from using Facebook or other social media outlets outside of the practice, but you can remind them that what they post about their job or the practice is up for scrutiny. Depending on the comment, it could present the practice in a bad light. Comments can also cross privacy boundaries.  In order to protect themselves and the practice, you should request that they refrain from commenting on anything related to the practice.

ATTITUDE – you have probably experienced your share of passive-aggressive behavior by your team. It manifests itself in ways in which you may not be aware until it is brought to your attention by another team member or a patient; being surly or short with someone, slamming doors or banging things, ignoring others, sarcasm and responding in an overly exaggerated sweetness that is “put on”. Patients pick up on these behaviors and it reflects poorly on the practice and you as their leader.

OUTSIDE THE PRACTICE:

How many times have you been in public and seen one of your patients?  Whether it’s at the grocery store, gas station, sporting event or the countless other places you might go, you are keenly aware of how you might be perceived by your patients outside the practice. Your staff?  Not so much.  

When they aren’t working, your staff are probably not thinking about patients seeing them in a less-than-flattering light. And there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. However, you can encourage them to be on their best behavior. Remind them that they can be a powerful influencer to encourage patients to stay active in their dental care by the warm greeting or response they give patients outside the practice.

Enforcing these expectations can be difficult but it is essential that your staff understand  how vitally important they are in influencing practice perception. They are a huge part of the equation.