13 Dec 2013  •  Practice Management  •  4min read

Keeping Pace With Opportunity

In this week’s blog, Practice Plan‘s Sales Director Nigel Jones takes a look at how practices can take up new opportunities to help improve their practice revenue against the challenge of ever-rising costs.

A key challenge for many practices I visit is keeping a consistent, and preferably improving, revenue. Although the option of increasing both plan charges and treatment fees is a realistic consideration for many practices, this is not without its risks, so it does need some careful thought. All the more reason then to make sure other opportunities for improving revenue are not being missed.

Take for example an enquiry from a potential new patient.  In the current climate, almost any new patient is precious, but do you know how precious? Quantifying the potential value of a new patient can be very helpful in focusing the mind of everyone in the practice team on how best to handle such enquiries, particularly as for most practices, the average value of a treatment plan for a new patient is unsurprisingly considerably more than that for an existing regular attendee.

Of course, I’m not advocating the dehumanising of a new patient enquiry, these are still real people with real healthcare needs and they need to be handled in an appropriate and ethical manner. It’s just that if it were possible to estimate the cost to the practice of any potential new patients lost, because the phone was engaged or not answered due to workload pressures at the front desk, it could help you make investment decisions about ways of resourcing reception.

It may also prompt you to ensure that you have fully equipped the people on the front desk with the required skills and knowledge to provide an enquirer with the right information in the right way to maximise the chance of them booking an appointment with you rather than someone else. It’s key to remember that the role of the front desk team is so much more than being simply about managing the appointment book. However, it’s surprising how often this is overlooked. Even today, the exercise of quantifying the value of a new patient can really help in attaching importance to scrutinising this aspect of your practice as well as adding significance to the reception roles.

And yes, as part of that scrutiny, I am going to mention mystery shopping; a concept that too often strikes sufficient fear into the hearts of valuable team members that it is never carried out. And yet, doesn’t mystery shopping help demonstrate that the role of the front desk is significant? Or, to put it another way, if there is no evaluation of how well patient enquiries are being handled, can it really be that important after all?

Positioning mystery shopping as being about identifying training needs and enhancing development is a given when introducing it for the first time, but your subsequent actions must be consistent with such comforting words of trust in the process otherwise your team will lose faith and that’s to no-one’s advantage.

There is a twist to the mystery shopping concept that can be considered. For many team members, resistance to the idea is a symptom of a lack of confidence in their own abilities and a fear of being shown up. I know of several practices who allow their team to take time out to mystery shop other practices in the area, sometimes over the phone, other times by visiting the practice in person. They then get together to discuss the learning points which inevitably include some great ideas that can be pinched, recycled and adapted for their own practice. However, the chief benefit is often the confidence it gives the team that they are good at what they do and that is easily worth the cost of a session given over to the exercise.

In these slightly tougher times, it can be easy to think the main ways of addressing concerns about profitability are by increasing prices and working hard to reduce costs. However, opportunities to boost income, while at the same time enhancing the patient experience, can be created with greater focus on what happens when a prospective patient picks up the phone to get in contact.

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