Th 0611desan01

Educate and motivate!

Nov. 1, 2006
The time you spend training your patients will bring financial rewards
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The time you spend training your patients will bring financial rewards

Wouldn’t it be great if all of your patients followed instructions so that they got their braces off on time, without cavities, and with a great-looking smile? Unfortunately, not all patients comply. As the office manager of a busy orthodontic practice, I know firsthand that patient compliance is a big challenge.

Patients don’t brush and floss like they should. They don’t wear their rubber bands, headgear, or neckgear as often as they should. They still eat hard and sticky foods. All this leads to increased treatment times, cavities, and compromised finishes, not to mention plenty of stress! What can we in the dental office do? Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do. The potential is huge and the costs are low. If you educate and motivate patients to their fullest potential, you can:

  • Improve oral hygiene
  • Reduce treatment times
  • Improve staff efficiency
  • Strengthen internal marketing
  • Increase your income
  • We spend so much money and time on certain areas - staff, equipment, collections, learning how to improve our conversion rate, etc. - that we may lose sight of the fact that we can train patients to cooperate in order to achieve true teamwork.Consider how you currently educate new patients at their initial appointment. Now, picture your clinic on a busy start day. Braces are on and the assistant is showing the patient how to brush and floss and what wax is for, and showing the parent how to activate an appliance. If you’re like most offices, you do this with models and 2-D photos.Why not take advantage of today’s technology and educate patients in a more visually appealing way, with video software or animations of oral hygiene, eating habits, appliance activation, elastic wear, and troubleshooting? Some software packages include take-home CDs that can be put in new patients’ goody bags. There is huge value in giving patients something to review at home. Another great option is to incorporate patient education on your Web site.By educating patients, you will promote consistency, improve staff efficiency, reduce emergency appointments, and strengthen internal marketing. When patients and parents see that you really care about educating them, they will be inclined to tell their friends about your practice.Now that you’ve educated your patients, how do you motivate them for patient compliance? The answer is simpler than you might think - implement a patient reward system. There are many choices, but regardless of the system you choose, the most important thing is that you implement it well. By that, I mean your system must rely on patient compliance. Patients should not be rewarded unless they follow your instructions and show evidence of good oral hygiene.Point systems and raffles are not as successful as a system with tangible money. Points are hard to keep track of and not much fun to earn. Raffles may be great for some, but they won’t appeal to all patients. For instance, if my orthodontist had raffled a bike when I was a child in braces, I would not have been motivated to comply. Biking just wasn’t my thing. By raffling a specific item, you lose the opportunity to motivate all of your patients.It’s a lot harder to impress a child these days, especially with a brushing and flossing routine that takes almost 10 minutes, or wearing rubber bands that a patient would rather shoot at a friend than put in his or her mouth. You could fly some kids to the moon and back, and they still wouldn’t brush and floss. But if you can motivate most of your patients and improve overall patient compliance, it’s worth the time and money you invest in a reward system.Whether you choose paper money or wooden nickels or pogs or metal tokens, use tangible items. If the immediate reward has inherent value, then you’ll be closer to achieving your goal of motivation. It’s important to offer prizes that kids care about. I’ve been in offices where the best prize offered is something like a kite. If we think we’re going to get kids to do 10 minutes of brushing and flossing each night to earn a kite, we’re fooling ourselves. Adults will also respond more positively to good prizes, such as gift cards.With this reward system, patients can cash in their rewards for prizes at any point during treatment. You’ll find that most patients wait until the end of treatment so they can earn a large prize, such as a Game Boy or MP3 player. More complex cases and Phase I/II treatment patients can save up to earn a grand prize of an iPod or PlayStation or Xbox. Getting a valuable prize at the end of treatment adds to the excitement of finishing treatment, and it strengthens your internal marketing. Other children will ask Susie or Johnnie where they got their cool, new MP3 player.But the biggest benefit to you is patient compliance. If you consistently and effectively reinforce the importance of oral hygiene and following instructions, you can improve patient compliance and practice efficiency. And this is how you influence your bottom line.As you know, poor patient compliance leads to increased treatment times. In this industry, we usually don’t charge extra if a case goes on longer than planned because of poor compliance. Some offices have a three- to six-month grace period, then start charging for appointments, but that is not typical. These appointments take up chair time, staff time, and doctor time.The norm is that we lose time, and time is money. Time is a precious commodity that we’d rather spend with family (more time off) or treating new patients (more patients per year). Instead of better use of time, we waste money treating patients who don’t cooperate. But it is possible to have more time off and make your practice grow without adding chairs, staff, hours, another office, or more doctors. You can achieve this freedom and increased income if you consider your patients to be a valuable part of your team. Remember that orthodontics is a partnership between the doctor, staff, and patient.How is your patient compliance? Maybe it’s time to invest in training your patients so that you all can be rewarded.
    Charis Santillie, director of Smile!, is an innovative entrepreneur and public speaker. Her outside-the-box patient compliance and marketing strategies are being used internationally. She has developed tools for progressive practices including a Tooth-Shaped Mini-CD, Patient Education Software, and a Tooth Token Reward System. She can be reached at (415) 499-5143, [email protected], or via her Web site at to an Effective Patient Reward System
  • The system must rely on patient compliance.
  • Implement a system that rewards with tangible money (paper money, wooden nickels, pogs, or metal tokens) instead of using point systems and raffles.
  • Offer prizes that kids care about.
  • Allow patients to cash in their rewards for prizes at any time during treatment.
  • Offer a valuable prize at the completion of treatment to add excitement, encourage full compliance, and strengthen internal marketing.
  • Make sure your rewards appeal to most of your patients instead of just a select few.
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