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TELEPHONE CONVERSATIONS

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drsushant's picture
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Joined: 14 May 2011

 Telephone techniques

ANSWERING THE TELEPHONE

The telephone is the most important instrument in the practice. The person answering the phone can make or break the practice. Getting voicemail during patient hours is the “kiss of death.” The second worst greeting is a hurried person who comes across abrupt or stressed. In the first 30 seconds of the telephone being answered, patients determine how patients are treated throughout the practice and during their dental treatment. Four tones of voice must be filtered throughout the conversation: (1) friendliness, (2) knowledgeable, (3) enthusiastic, and (4) empathetic. The best greeting would be: “Thank you for calling XYZ Dental Practice, this is Sonya. How may I help you?” They would not be calling if they did not need to be helped.

ON-HOLD PATIENT EDUCATION

For those practices that have dead silence or outlandish music on hold, what a lost opportunity to enthusiastically educate the patients about the practice, the dentist, or the team and to show excitement for the procedures performed or courses taken that set this practice ahead of others. You can also have soothing music in the background. Remember dead silence or outlandish music makes people count up the faults of those who keep them waiting. Patient education actually makes some patients and callers say “put me back on hold for a minute, I want to hear the rest of that message.” Know the courtesy of the hold button: Caller No. 1 deserves top priority of your time. If your scheduling coordinator is on line No. 1 and line No. 2 rings, the caller can hear the other line ringing and they know you are the primary phone person. Tell caller No. 1, “I have another call coming in but I promise to be back to you in less than 60 seconds.” Answer line No. 2, if it is a simple 30-second response such as “What time is my appointment tomorrow 10 or 10:30?” Answer that question. Any others take the name and number of the caller and phone them back within 10 minutes. Taking numbers and returning calls is much more efficient than having 2 or 3 people at the desk take calls. (In larger group practices this is handled differently).

AN ADEQUATE PHONE SYSTEM

Too many practices try to run a 21st century dental practice with an outdated phone system. Since the telephone is the lifeline to the outside world, having the right number of phone lines is important. Busy signals make patients go elsewhere. A solo practice must have a minimum of fuve lines. Lines 1 and 2 are patient-ready lines. No one should use lines 1 or 2 for outgoing calls as those are for incoming patient calls. Lines 3 and 4 can be outgoing calls and line No. 5 is the designated fax line. Line No. 3 can also be used as the financial coordinator’s line. If on a rollover system, when line No. 3 rings first, your financial coordinator, not your scheduling coordinator answers that line. All statements and insurance forms that leave your practice should have the line No. 3’s number on them, not the main patient number which is answered by the scheduling coordinator. From now on, all financial questions are answered by the financial coordinator to prevent any interruptions to the scheduler.

CONTROLLING THE SCHEDULE

Too many times the scheduling coordinator, hygienist, or clinical assistant (if terminals for scheduling are chairside), think they are doing patients a favor to ask: “You like the 8 a.m. appointments, don’t you?” Or they will ask, “What time is most convenient for you?” Those 2 questions are responsible for the “feast or famine” schedule. This means your prime time is scheduled weeks/months in advance and there’s 2 to 3 hours of open time tomorrow and the next day. Instead ask only this question: “Are mornings or afternoons best?” If they say mornings, give them two choices of your most difficult morning appointments to fill … get rid of those first. If they prefer afternoons, again offer the two most difficult to fill afternoon appointments. “Doctor can see you on the 14th at 2 p.m. or the 16th at 2:20 p.m. When people are given 2 choices they typically take one or the other. By doing this, the scheduler is in control of the day’s schedule versus leaving it up to the patients to pick and choose.

Fees and collections

PRESENTING FEES

Even the most timid financial coordinator can have amazing collection results by using positive words, which means positive results. “Your fee today was $475. Will that be cash, check or bank card?” Three YES answers. Asking instead, “Would you like to take care of it today?” or “How would you like to pay?” leaves the door open for patients to say, “I’m not prepared to pay today, can you please send me a statement?” The clinical team can also help with over-the-counter collections by saying at dismissal, “Mrs. Davis, Karen our financial coordinator will be taking care of you now. She will be giving you your receipt for today’s visit.” A receipt means, we expect to be paid for today’s visit. Being proactive versus reactive is the key.

STAND TO PRESENT FEES

If patients are standing at the counter to pay, the financial coordinator should also stand to present the fees. It is a known fact that the person sitting in a conversation about money is the one that will be compromised with results. One must have eye contact to discuss money. If the patient is seated, the financial coordinator should stay seated. This would be at the dental chair, in the consultation room and some practices actually have a sit-down chair for check out and financials. Eye contact and positive words make a big difference in over-the-counter collections and net profits of the practice.

PAST-DUE COLLECTION CONVERSATIONS

In calling past-due patient accounts remember kindness brings much better results than demands. Using phrases such as, “I’m sure this is an oversight, Mr. Phillips” or “Mrs. Warren, I understand with the busy lives we all lead how this could have been forgotten.” Saying, “Our accountant was in last week to review these accounts. I must report to him the date of each month and the amount we can expect” sounds better than, “If you don’t pay within 10 days I’m turning you over to a collection agency.” Working with patients through tough times retains the family and also creates lasting good will.

MAKING PAST-DUE COLLECTION CALLS

Persistence pays. Financial coordinators who get the best results in accounts receivable management divide the alphabet into 4 parts (6 letters each of 4 weeks) (xyz counts as one letter). They persistently and politely call 6 letters of the alphabet of past-due patients during a 2-hour break in their normal check-out routine each week. Preferably on Thursday mornings from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. as it’s a known fact patients are in a better mood on Thursdays or Fridays than earlier in the week. (Larger practices may need more than 2 hours of dedicated time.) When patients make promises but no payments, another call is in order. Note: With patient financing, collection calls become a thing of the past or greatly reduces the need for collection calls. A much better way to manage AR. If more than 4% of the AR is past 90 days there is a collections problem. Remember also: Get rid of the AR and your open chair time goes down significantly. “Patients who owe you money break appointments or no-show.”

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