By Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS, and Jennifer McDonald
The purpose of a treatment coordinator, even if it’s in tandem with other duties, is to ensure completion of the cycle from the clinical diagnosis to a patient on your schedule who has made a clear financial agreement to pay for the treatment.
All too often this step in the treatment acceptance cycle is taken for granted, foreshortened, or handled too matter-of-factly. Consider the typical patient dismissal. The patient is dismissed to the front office staff person. The efficient front office staff person has the treatment plan neatly printed out. It has the appropriate insurance information and calculation. It has the treatment plan with the fees. It has a bottom line amount that the patient will need to pay and an amount that the insurance is expected to pay. The business staff member presents this sheet to the patient and asks him or her to look it over and sign.
Now, this seems to be a very logical process. However, the opportunity for patients to go into immediate sticker shock as their eyes fixate on the bottom line is very high. Most patients have NO CLUE how much dentistry costs. Most staff members and dentists become laissez-faire about the fact that a crown costs $1,200.
Every patient who is diagnosed with treatment that totals the equivalent of your practice fee for a crown deserves a different process. The practice will have more treatment scheduled! Fewer patients will fall through the cracks. Your incomplete treatment printout from the computer will shrink.
Who should be your treatment coordinator?
Your treatment coordinator should have these essential characteristics:
- Dental knowledge, and more importantly, an understanding of the dental philosophy of the dentist.
- Excellent communication skills, poise, professional appearance, and a special ability to “get a kick” out of having patients accept treatment without being pushy.
- Organized, systematic, and with good follow-through.
- Knowledge of the dental insurance game, to help patients use and understand their benefits.
- Self-confidence to be able to ask a patient to enroll in a treatment plan of $____ (your highest dollar amount for a treatment plan) with eye-to-eye contact and ask for the patient to commit to a payment arrangement.
- Positive attitude and enthusiasm for the positive effect good dentistry has on the patient.
- Ability to think on his or her feet, on the fly, and with little preparation.
5 Habits Of Highly Effective Treatment Coordinators:
Habit No. 1: Use an appropriate location to build trust and spur open communication.
The RIGHT place …
- Is private — NOT at the front desk.
- Has a computer with a large screen that the patient can easily see.
- Has a credit card machine to enable patient checkout in this room.
- Is open — glass windows on the door — so the patient does not feel trapped.
- Is clean and neat.
Most modern dental offices have a consultation room, yet few teams use them to the best advantage. This can be the office for the treatment coordinator.
Habit No. 2: Help the patient emotionally understand the NEED for the dental treatment.
Establish the NEED for the services in the treatment plan BEFORE showing any fees!
How to start the treatment coordinator communication:
- Introduce yourself if you have not already met the patient.
- Ask, “How was your visit today, Mrs. Patient?”
- Review the treatment plan with the patient to clarify and answer any concerns.
- Use the following four-step communication model to help your patient see and understand the NEED for dental treatment:
When you present the problem, include a visual of the patient’s problem magnified, annotated, and in color. Show them on the computer and hand the patient his or her own picture. Physically handing the problem to patients to hold in their hands is important for them to emotionally connect to the problem.
A picture is worth a thousand words! Ninety percent of new information we take in is visual. Use graphic, patient-friendly terms and ask more than tell. Lead your patient into owning the problem or condition. “Can you see on this picture that a quarter of your tooth is gone?” “Did you know that the infection you have in your gums is related to many other illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes?”
CROWN — “To keep your tooth from breaking any further, Dr. Sam has recommended a complete tooth-covering crown. The crown will protect your tooth and allow you to chew with confidence.”
Habit No. 3: Motivate patients to accept treatment.
Ask — “Have I answered all of your questions? Do you have any other questions besides how your insurance will contribute to this?”
Review the patient’s original concern and how this treatment plan solves that. Answer any questions and objections. Objections can often be handled with the Feel, Felt, Found response. “Mrs. Patient, I know how you feel about not wanting a root canal; however, other patients of Dr. Sam have felt that way until they found that the new methods of root canal therapy are painless. Dr. Sam and Mary are committed to keeping you pain free during the entire procedure. We can even have you come a few minutes early for a special calming medication to help you relax. How does that sound?”
Habit No. 4: Ask for a commitment.
Ask — “Are you ready to start this treatment to get you back to good dental health and avoid any more complications?”
Have a foolproof follow-up process if the patient does not accept treatment right away. Don’t be pushy, but do have a follow-up time if he or she does not schedule an appointment.
Give patients a printout of their picture to take home to share. Most patients have a “honey” who shares their household budget. Honey has a better opportunity to understand the value of the treatment if the patient comes home with more than a treatment plan sheet of words and no pictures. Send patients home with a CD or a jump drive with pictures, and a segment from Curve ED™, CAESY™, GURU™, or other program about their dental condition.
Habit No. 5: Make “healthy” financial arrangements.
Quote the entire fee — confidently.
Ask if the patient would like to take advantage of your bookkeeper’s courtesy savings if 100% of the total fee minus 5% is paid before treatment begins. Patients with dental insurance will have the insurance check sent to them. If the answer is no or “What will my insurance pay?” then and only then show the computer printout or CareCredit® printout.
Review other options with patients. Options should include:
1. Credit card payment plan agreement. Four to six easy payments secured by the patient’s debit or credit card or a bank draft from his or her checking account. (Email me for this form at email@example.com.)
2. Phase treatment to fit the patient’s budget.
Formalize the agreement in writing.
- Have the patient sign the treatment plan.
- Have the patient sign the financial agreement.
In closing, shake hands with the patient and say, “Thank you for being a patient in our office. Here is my card if you have any questions or concerns. I’m delighted to meet you.”
As a treatment coordinator, it is critical to understand the individual needs of your patient. As a result, you will find that each treatment presentation will be different, but the basic foundation remains the same. Help patients understand the need for treatment, speak to the benefits of care, work toward a commitment, and always end with healthy financial arrangements. You’ll find that patients will feel more at ease with a plan that supports them on their journey to better oral health. As the ambassador to better oral health, you play a critical role in creating the steps to better health.
Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS, is an insightful consultant, author, and speaker who assists dental professionals in reaching their full potential. Her credentials include 20 years of consulting and speaking, degrees in dental hygiene and business management, and a master’s degree in health care administration. Her “in the trenches” experience includes practice management, dental hygiene, and dental assisting. Reach Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 242-7648.
Jennifer McDonald has been providing management and technology solutions to dentists for more than 20 years. She is managing partner of Dental Management Advisors, a dental consulting firm that specializes in assisting dental professionals to achieve excellence in leadership and management. Reach Jennifer at (888) 215-5864 or www.dentalmanagementadvisors.com.
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