Communicating with your patients

Jan. 1, 1997
Software products now are available to help you inform patients of the ever-growing services you offer.

Software products now are available to help you inform patients of the ever-growing services you offer.

David S. Ainsworth, DMD

When we were kids, selling lemonade was simple. All we had to do was sell 25 cups at two cents a cup and we had a quick 50 cents in our pocket. Economics at the time (even if we could spell it) was straightforward. People knew what lemonade was . . . and we got paid for our service right then and there.

Well, things have changed and our profession is much more complicated. As dentists deliver an ever- growing series of services to their patients (consumers), our pa-tients need to be well informed of these services. It is our responsibility and it takes precious time.

We also know that, today, we increasingly rely upon third- party payments. The longer and more complicated a process it is to be paid, the worse it is for you and me as business people.

We now have software products to help us deliver knowledge to patients and help secure payments more quickly. Plus, let me stress that this will not cost thousands of dollars in costly upgrades.

Time Is Precious

All too often, we are treating a patient with a limited amount of our time. Naturally, we always want to answer all of our patient`s questions, but unfortunately we can`t always be as thorough as we wish and end up only giving the patient a quick overview of the particular procedure. Worse yet, our patient probably receives this limited information as a blur of gobbledygook!

For example, I personally be- lieve that I can explain and communicate better than most. But, often after explaining what a root canal procedure entails, my patient usually absorbs only about 50 percent of what was said. If you don`t believe me, quiz your own patients.

That was the problem and here is the solution. Whenever a patient leaves an office, he/she receives a written explanation of each procedure or series of topics that was covered. For example, when a root canal patient leaves an office after the first endo visit, he/she generally will have: a) a written explanation of how a root canal is performed; b) a written explanation of post-operative possibilities and instructions; c) a written de-scription of an apicoectomy (my theory is that it is better to discuss the possibility before rather than after). The patient then can read the handouts carefully at home at your insistance.

Let me tell you about another situation your hygienist probably deals with all the time. Perhaps during the course of the day, a patient is told about bleaching options or possibly an antibruxism appliance. Your hygienist simply signals the receptionist to print explanations for each possible treatment option. Having a written aid to take home and refer to is certainly a whole lot better than the patient saying, "OK . . . I`ll think about it . . . I`ll let you know."

These patient explanations are printed directly from the computer or copied by staff while the patient is being treated and are given to them while they are making their next appointment. Written explanations are important tools for your patients to refer to when they are at home. These explanations reinforce and remind the patients of what was said and recommended in detail, and they certainly help to eliminate simple misunderstandings.

I have found these written explanations to be an improvement upon the occasional patient pamphlet that is dispersed. Moreover, since it works from a word processor, as well as a copier, these documents can be customized to your particular needs and printed on your stationary, so the patient remembers who said it.

Stop Delay-of-Game Penalties

Is it me or does everyone think insurance companies have a special research department to dream up delays or reductions of insurance payments for services?

Every claim delay causes a loss of cash flow, costs extra time for our staff to process, and increases the possibility of a claim being lost at the insurance-processing center. I have found written narratives are a terrific method to combat the third-party delays. If a narrative is needed, software now is available to simplify the process.

For example, most of us would think it`s a wonderful sight to see our hygienist treating a patient with a double appointment for two quadrants of root planing and scaling. It is efficient, but unfortunately most insurance companies will not pay for more than one quadrant in a single visit. Our hygienist does all the treatment and the treatment chair-time was not decreased. But the insurance carrier only pays for half the claim, unless we take the time to write a clear and concise narrative.

Now, when a claim of this type is being sent for payment, your insurance person can print a pre-written narrative to accompany the dental claim. It will state the diagnosis and circumstances of the patient, time constraints, explains exactly what was done, and will thoroughly express the expectation of full payment. All we do is fill in the pocket readings. Written narratives can dramatically decrease the amount of insurance claims being returned unpaid and asking for additional information. Also, well-written narratives ensure we are compensated at the proper level.

If we don`t send a narrative for procedures such as porcelain laminates, antibruxism appliances, crown repairs or scaling and root planing, we are at the mercy of the dental insurance carriers.

In the past, many practitioners looked at their computers and said "I thought this thing was supposed to save us money and help us be more efficient?" I know I`ve done that a dozen times over the years, but now, at least, I can recommend software programs that will do just that, as well as eliminate headaches.

Remember, to be successful, we must practice smart!

Resources for Communications Software

The Last Word by Denta-vision, 201-239-0064, comprehensive professional dental letter series, includes documents for patient information handouts, insurance company narratives and patient-doctor financial agreements. Available in text and all software versions for general dentistry and all clinical specialties.

Very Truly Yours by Hycomb Communications, 415-957-5933, clinically up-to-date letters available in text and software versions. Available in wide variety of topics and specialties for patient education and communication.

The author has been in private practice in Edison, NJ, for 13 years. He is a partner in a large, multi-specialty dental practice.