In the first of two blogs, Former Technical Director at Practice Plan, Graham Penfold, focuses upon getting started and effective communication.
Dentists often comment that they would like to recruit more patients onto their practice membership plans but are uncertain about how to set about achieving this. There are several ways of optimising patient plan uptake and the first steps are to set an objective and to have a clear action plan.
An objective is just a quantified target to be achieved in a specific time frame. So, objectives should always fulfil the SMART criteria and be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. An example of an objective in this instance might be: ‘To attract 250 additional patients onto the practice plan membership schemes within the next 12 months.’
Setting the objective is the easy part; achieving it is the more challenging task, and that is where the action plan comes in. First, who is the target audience? Is it just new patients, only existing ones or both? If it is both then the approach will need to be different for each.
For new patients, you might want to include information about the plan in their welcome pack which you send to them ahead of their appointment, whilst for existing patients it could be a letter reminding them of the benefits of plan membership with their recall letter. Whatever tools you decide to use, a ‘warm up’ prompt is vital to aid effective communication.
Continuing the theme of good communication, careful thought needs to be given to the role of each team member at the practice. This is particularly important as receptionists cannot normally see what happens in the surgeries and vice versa, and patients have a habit of behaving differently in both environments; not the best of starts for joined-up communication!
So, you need to decide who does and says what to whom and how it is communicated effectively and seamlessly throughout the team. For example, when the patient arrives at the practice, the receptionist might confirm that the patient has received the literature about the plan, ask whether they have any queries, and assess the level of interest. This information can then be transmitted to the dentist who should discuss this with the patient, answer any queries and then recommend, if appropriate, that the patient joins one of the plans. If, of course, there is a treatment coordinator at the practice then some of the work can be delegated to them, but personal endorsement by the treating dentist is still vitally important.
It is important that the patient is not put under unreasonable pressure to join but they do need some direction from the practice about the benefits of membership, which is discussed below. Then, if possible, the dentist should walk the patient back to reception and explain that they are interested in joining and thus close the communication loop smoothly and personally for the patient back to the receptionist. To help ease this process, dentists might wish to consider allowing slightly longer, say five more minutes than normal (especially with existing patients at their consultation appointments), to facilitate the discussion and to prevent them from starting to run behind schedule and feel under pressure.
Yes, this does put extra work upon all the team but this is just the ‘J’ curve effect where some temporary short-term pain is well worth the longer-term gain. In Part Two we will look at incentives, marketing and training.