As an Orthodontic Practice Management Consultant, I have the unique opportunity to see each and every practice I work with in a way that not many others are afforded. I spend hours observing the intricate workings of new patient consultations; helping both the Treatment Coordinators and their doctors get to a point where they can revel in the feelings of a closing rate that is 85% or higher.Based on my experience, a lack of follow-up protocols designed to complement a well-choreographed exam, can be a major stumbling block for even the best Orthodontic Treatment Coordinators. By allowing themselves to fall prey to the trap of ‘they will call back’ rather than designing systems that ensure ‘we contact them back’; there is sure to be money left on the table—never thinking twice about the other 15%—the one’s that get away!
Know your new patient lifecycle and the importance of statuses in your practice
For a Treatment Coordinator to consider their new patient process finished they must have a plan in place to keep track of and find closure on every patient that leaves their office without an appointment. It is imperative that they understand the new patient lifecycle and the impact patient statuses have on their ability to follow up with these potential starts.
At the conclusion of a new patient consultation, there are typically two potential outcomes. Either we know that they will become a same day start, in which they are placed into an Active Treatment status, or they should be coded under one of the following three statuses for your new patient lifecycle. Observation, to later be followed up with by the TC or OBS coordinator. Declined, in which the patient needs to be inactivated, or Pending, which means there is additional follow up required by the Orthodontic Treatment Coordinator to help convert this patient into an Active Treatment status.
In my opinion, there should be no other statuses within the new patient lifecycle. By keeping it simple, we ensure patients are never lost in the abyss of status changes. For those of you reading this blog that have been practicing for a while, I implore you to look at the new patient lifecycle statuses for your practice. How many patients have assigned statuses that no one follows? My guess is you could have hundreds of lost patients hiding in the deep dark corners of your operating systems.
If your statuses are correct and simple, your TC should always know where to look for the unconverted 15%. With that being said, we should not need to use external systems like excel spreadsheets, or CRM programs to help us track what our already robust operating systems can do for us.
Be true to your word and communicate properly
When I coach TC’s I have them make sure that if a new patient is going to leave the exam without a commitment to treatment, that they always, always, always pick a day and time to follow up with the patient the following week. I also suggest that the Treatment Coordinator confirm the best method of communication for the patient. Although, your offices still have landline phones, most of your patients have moved away from them and now prefer a new communication style. You will find that your patients usually prefer and appreciate a well-timed text or email, so ask!
When following up with potential starts I suggest that TC’s use a combination of a well scripted email and phone call sequences. It is important that attempts to contact these patients are made every two weeks after the consultation until you have had an extended period with no response (at least 8 weeks) or the patient has indicated that they are not interested in starting treatment. When you communicate with your patients in ways that they prefer, you prove that you have their best interests in mind and in turn, end up starting many more of the patients that would have been lost to unanswered phone calls.
Pending or will call back patients should always be followed by a Treatment Coordinator
I feel strongly that all pending patients should be followed by the Treatment Coordinator that worked with them during the initial consultation. No matter how good it may sound, I never suggest handing pending patients off to any other team member within the office. Before you make the decision to pass the follow-up duties along to another team member, I would urge you to think about how confident you feel in that team member’s ability to answer treatment or financial questions considering $5,000 or more is on the line. I feel that if you are spending 3-5% of your net-collections each year on marketing to get new patients in the door, you don’t want to let that money go to waste on the 15% you still have a chance with. By leaving these patients in the hands of the experts, you have the best opportunity to convert them into starts even after they leave your office!
Once you have gone through your eight-week sequence and your pending patients, have not communicated with you, it is time to lovingly move them into an inactive status. I suggest you conclude your follow up efforts with a friendly questionnaire or letter that allows the patient to respond in an informal way. Sending out a survey through your operating system or any other communication software, allows you to have closure on your unclosed cases. It is also a great way wrap up your communication efforts. In the survey, I would ask the patient five simple questions:
- Are you still interested in treatment?
- If so, when should we contact you?
- Are finances getting in the way of your getting started?
- Have you chosen to go elsewhere?
- If so, why?
Letting a patient go and moving them to an Inactive status is one of the hardest things most doctors and TC’s will do, especially if they are looking to capture the 15% that got away. Hard as it may be, it is important that things end on a positive note.
— Jill Allen, Owner of Jill Allen & Associates