10 new ways to maximize already existing items in the dental practice

January 4, 2013

Dental Consultant and Office Manager Jill Nesbitt, MBA, offers up 10 fresh ways to put those older items to use in your practice.

Dental Consultant and Office Manager Jill Nesbitt, MBA, offers up 10 fresh ways to put those older items to use in your practice.

I’m a big fan of the magazine Real Simple. My favorite feature is the ‘New Uses for Old Things,’ which is a section that takes something you use on a daily basis for one thing and suggests a new, unique way to use this same item.

So, using this concept from Real Simple for inspiration, I have created my ‘New Uses for Old Things – The Dental Practice Management edition.’

Idea 1: Use Positive Survey Responses as Consistent Staff Praise
It seems like most dental practices are using e-mail surveys for their patients – through programs like Dentrix’s eCentral and DemandForce. So, what do you do with all the responses? Here’s an idea: If the patient specifically names a dentist or staff member, have the secretary put a big smiley face on the top of the printed survey and stick it in that person’s inbox. What a way to provide that dentist, hygienist, assistant or secretary positive reinforcement at no cost at all!

Idea 2: Use Patient Complaints for Practice Improvement
This is one of my favorites. In fact, I’ve written a full article about this. By creating a form to document the patient’s side of the story, and then following up by interviewing the staff member or dentist to hear their side of the story, the office manager can almost always discover an opportunity to improve. I just handled a patient complaint last week where the patient was upset after an upper arch scaling/root planning procedure. After talking with the patient and the hygienist, I realized the clinical care was well done, but the communication was fuzzy because the hygienist skipped using our standard handout that explains STM since he only had one arch involved. In addition, the secretary didn’t make solid financial arrangements. This approach resulted in two opportunities to improve. Voila!

Idea 3: Use Patients Who Unsubscribe from your E-mail Program as Customized Follow-Up Targets
Occasionally, patients will unsubscribe from your e-mail survey system. When this happens, DemandForce sends me an email letting me know the name of the patient. Instead of looking at this as a lost patient, I created a customized letter that we e-mail to this patient. This standard e-mail includes last visit dates, mentions outstanding treatment, asks if he or she has found a new dentist or are delaying for financial reasons, and offers to answer questions or schedule an appointment.

Once, I saw an acquaintance of mine unsubscribe and I quickly shot her an e-mail explaining that I saw she unsubscribed and I hoped we hadn’t upset her. I made sure to ask her if there was anything I could do to smooth things out. She called me back within minutes and rescheduled her appointment and all was well. You can save your patients from walking out the back door, too.

Idea 4: Patient Stories as Blog Posts
Everyone tells stories in a dental practice. For example, “Did you see the amount of build up on that guy? I heard he hasn’t been to a dentist in 12 years! Check out this picture!”

Related: The Office Manager's role in social media marketing

When you get a good story, write it up, snap a photo and share it on your blog. The cute four-year-old “assisting” at mom’s appointment with gloves and a mask is pure gold on your blog and Facebook page. Catching patients who are happy with your services and raving about you to their hygienist, before/after pictures of successful whitening cases, and patients who have been in the local newspaper are all opportunities for content on your blog.

Idea 5: Donate Old Computers
I have 37 computers in our practice, so at least every couple years I’ll have a computer that’s just too slow for the staff to deal with. When I get a new one, I’ll evaluate the old and if I find that it’s still functional, I’ll offer it to the staff for free. Someone might like to have an extra PC for his or her kids’ homework? This is great for staff morale and again, costs nothing.

Idea 6: Use Dentrix Database of Patients as Target-Marketing Mecca
Your dental practice management software isn’t just a home for your patient’s name, address and insurance information. As they come in for treatment, cleanings, STM, emergencies, or extractions, you’re gaining valuable information that you can use for marketing. You already run reports to follow up on recall and collections, but the objective is to think more creatively about this database. You can find patients that have had an extraction charged out and then contact them with information on replacing missing teeth. You can look up patients who started an STM, but never completed it and have your hygienist call to reactivate them. You can look for new patient emergencies and invite them to return for a comprehensive exam. The ideas are endless!

Idea 7: Use Requests for Donations as New Patient Marketing Opportunities
Do you get hit up about donating to beauty pageants? Sports teams? Church mission trips? There’s no way to financially support every single request, so here’s a spin that allows you to say yes to every request. Offer to give them a gift certificate for a free dental cleaning/exam that they can raffle off. They keep the money from their raffle (the value is about $120) and you may get a new patient in addition to the free marketing that comes from their promotion.

Idea 8: CareCredit Denials as ‘Layaway for Teeth’ Candidates
In the last year, I’ve been approached by two different companies offering to sell me new financial services for patients denied by CareCredit. These guys are smart – they’re definitely onto the ‘new uses for old things’ concept. In my opinion, they’re just too expensive. To solve this problem, we created a new financial arrangement option for our patients called “Pay as you go.”  The way this works is that the patient can choose any amount they want to pay that fits into his or her budget and we set up an automatic funds transfer with the bank. Once the patient builds up enough credit, we schedule his or her next visit. This allows my secretary team to never deny a patient due to finances – we can always say yes!

Idea 9: Recycle
Okay, this one is low hanging fruit – everyone should do it. We print dozens of schedules, walkout statements, insurance claims, treatment plans as internal documents. So, we set up an inbox beside the copier/printer to collect all paper that’s been printed on one side only and, as the office manager, I fill my printer with this recycled paper because almost every document I produce is internal!

Idea 10: Use Failures as Continuous Improvement Projects
Running a dental practice can be tough. For years our practice has been working to increase the number of new patients, to improve our case acceptance, and to increase the hygienist’s production.

Starting in 2007, we watched our measures get worse in several areas year after year. Since we share our performance with staff, this can also be tough on morale. The key is to recognize that although we weren’t hitting our goals, we knew where the problems were. We kept working at them and now we’re starting to see some improvement. By far, our best idea last year was targeting our new patient emergencies. The following steps are how we did this:

  • Changed the form used by the assistants to run the tests to assess the patient

  • Re-trained the assistants to use this form properly

  • Added a bonus system and shared results every month with the team

  • Promoted all of this on our website

Over the course of the last two months we have added over 50 new patients to the practice that started as emergencies! Lemons to lemonade. This success also motivates us not to give up on other challenges that we still haven’t figured out yet.

The year 2012 is an old thing. As you’re ringing in the new year, be sure to use your experiences, your lessons, and your data to set your new vision for the future and find new uses for old things.

Jill Nesbitt is a dental consultant and practicing office manager for a multi-specialty private dental group. Nesbitt has managed the practice for 14 years, has state-level quality training, and coaches dental teams to improve the business-side of their practices.