A new level of customer service

Aug. 1, 2010
In the last 20 years, dental research has led to a proliferation of new materials, equipment, technologies, and services.

Roger P. Levin, DDS

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: practice success, dental anesthesia, anesthesia reversal, OraVerse®, marketing, patient education, communications, paradigm, Dr. Roger Levin.

In the last 20 years, dental research has led to a proliferation of new materials, equipment, technologies, and services. This has allowed dentists to provide broader and better care than ever before, with an array of options at their fingertips to offer patients.

No longer restricted to a limited set of services, dental practices today can offer highly customized care for each patient as a result of continuing breakthroughs in the areas of diagnosis, treatment, efficiency, and pain control.

The old paradigm

The introduction of dental anesthesia is probably the first breakthrough that revolutionized the dental profession. Suddenly, patients could go to dental practices with less fear than they had in the past. Those who had experienced dental procedures without anesthesia found numbness a small price to pay for having comfortable dentistry in the office. It allowed both adults and children to have a better patient experience without concern over fear of pain.

In the old paradigm, patients present to the office, receive an injection, have treatment, and allow numbness to gradually go away, usually three to five hours later. This process was readily accepted by patients because it was a major breakthrough in providing comfortable dentistry, and it was simply the best pain control dentistry had to offer at that time. Now there is something more.

The new paradigm

As in any research-based field, there are breakthroughs occurring on a regular basis in dentistry. One of the newest is OraVerse®, an anesthetic reversal product that accelerates a patient's return to normal sensation following dental anesthesia. In many of my seminars this year, I have had an increasing number of questions about anesthesia reversal and how to make it work in the practice.

This breakthrough allows patients to visit the dentist, have comfortable treatment, and recover from the effects of the anesthetic much faster. In clinical trials, OraVerse patients recovered sensation in a median time of 50 minutes in the maxilla and 70 minutes in the mandible. Being unable to speak clearly at work or having any fear of a temporary physical impairment is eliminated, not to mention the less-than-desirable feeling of numbness over many hours following an appointment. In this new paradigm, patients are only numb when they need to be.

OraVerse, an FDA-approved product, was introduced to dentistry as the first anesthesia reversal product that has many benefits from both a practice management and a customer service standpoint. Consider the following:

» Patient receptivity to anesthesia reversal has been extremely positive. Since an option for reversal has not been available, patients do not typically complain about the ongoing numbness following a procedure. It is now evident that many patients prefer to have this reversed. As always, until people know that something is available, they do not ask for it or necessarily complain about the current condition. Patient response to OraVerse has been extremely positive and goes to the heart of outstanding customer service. In fact, Dr. Timothy Saunders from USC reported in a study of 225 patients that 84% said OraVerse improved their dental experience.

» Practices that have introduced OraVerse are creating an image of being a leading-edge practice providing up-to-date dental care. This image is one that needs to be reinforced on a regular basis by dental practices to inspire continuing confidence in patients.

» Satisfied patients talk about anesthesia reversal with others. There are numerous stories of patients who have called their dentists' offices asking about an anesthesia reversal option after hearing about it from a friend. In a survey conducted by Novalar with 49 dentists and 379 patients, 82% of patients reported they would tell their families and friends about OraVerse after having the treatment done once.

Anesthesia reversal – a breakthrough in dentistry

To introduce anesthesia reversal properly into a dental practice, several strategies and marketing/communication activities should take place to promote the office as a provider of the most advanced care. As an analogy, when patient financing was first introduced to the dental profession, strategies and marketing/communications were needed to promote the office as a provider of this new financing option. Patients had a very strong desire for financing availability to help them afford dental treatment, and dentists who took advantage of working closely with a company such as Care Credit® saw a significant increase in the amount of dentistry performed as a result of the financing option.

OraVerse today, like patient financing in the past, is a new breakthrough that is highly desired by patients. Today, CareCredit is extremely popular and growing dramatically in usage every year. I believe that OraVerse will follow along the same lines.

Some strategies and marketing/communication activities to effectively introduce OraVerse into the practice are:

1. Every patient should receive a communication from the practice explaining that anesthesia reversal is available. Information regarding what anesthesia reversal is and what it does should be the main focus of the e-mail or letter. Language such as "We are proud to announce…" and "The benefits to our patients are …" are examples of the statements that will attract patient attention and gain appreciation. This information also can be included on practice Web sites or in newsletters.

2. Every patient who calls in or comes to the practice should now be told about anesthesia reversal. The information can be presented in a simple script by front desk staff, along the lines of "Mr. Smith, we are pleased to let you know that we now offer an anesthesia reversal option to all of our patients. For those who have procedures requiring some type of anesthetic, numbness can last three to five hours. OraVerse will reverse numbness within a median time of 50 minutes in the maxilla and 70 minutes in the mandible. Patients have been extremely happy with the results."
Anesthesia reversal also can be offered to patients who need a specific appointment time or call to cancel because lingering numbness is going to be an issue for them that day. The goal is for all patients to know that an anesthesia reversal option is available, that the practice is leading-edge, and that it provides the best options available. Patients will ultimately mention it to family members and friends.

3. Any patient who has an anesthetic-related procedure should once again be asked about anesthesia reversal at the end of the procedure. The dentist or dental assistant can provide a simple explanation, followed by the question, "Would you like to have your numbness reversed?" This question is all about focusing on benefits. Patients are not nearly as interested in the pharmaceutical aspects of anesthesia reversal as they are in the benefit of being able to reverse anesthesia. They will enjoy the idea of being able to leave the office feeling almost exactly the way they came in. Also, remember that it more easily allows for multi-quadrant dentistry, which means it may be possible for two appointments to be combined into one.

4. Strong case presentation skills make implementation easier. Many practices (doctors and staff) are reticent to implement new technology or treatment options if they include even a minor charge in patient treatment. Strong case presentation systems should be in place in every practice to make the discussions surrounding treatment-planning with the patient easy, thorough, and productive. Explain anesthesia reversal to patients, mention the fee, and ask them if they would like to have their numbness reversed. Staff members who have tried the product become believers and speak enthusiastically about it.

5. The dental hygienist should incorporate a discussion of the anesthesia reversal option into his or her time with patients. This makes perfect sense, given that the hygienist typically spends 40 to 60 minutes with each patient. Once again, these patients don't need to be the ones having any anesthetic-related procedures in that visit. This is about patient education. Educated patients can appreciate being given the information and are more likely to accept the treatment option next time they receive anesthesia.

6. Place evening calls to all patients who have had an anesthesia reversal-related procedure. A simple call to see how they are feeling and reinforce the benefit of anesthesia reversal will go a long way toward having them share this information with other individuals. The benefits of anesthesia reversal are compelling for many patients – so compelling that they often share information about their experiences with others who may decide to become your patients as well.

Promoting leading-edge treatments

Anesthesia reversal is a leading-edge treatment option with high efficacy. However, as with many new treatment options, there are practices that are only mentioning it to patients who have a specific need or on an occasional basis. It is best to consider offering it consistently for certain procedures and not necessarily by patient type or lifestyle. The benefits of anesthesia reversal will be much greater to the dental practice if every patient knows about it. As mentioned above, this can be accomplished through e-mails, in-office scripting, and ongoing communication and follow-up.

I have spoken to many doctors who use OraVerse in their practices, and they have expressed great satisfaction with the results. From the patients' point of view, anesthesia reversal is attractive because it enables them to go to a dental practice, have an invasive procedure of any type, and then leave the office experiencing the lingering effects of anesthesia for only half the usual time. Patients could not ask for a better experience after a visit to the dentist.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is chairman and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Since the company's inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973-0000, or www.levingroupgp.com.

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