By JONATHAN FINE
I have lost count of the number of practices I have visited where the receptionist (and often there are two) are charged with welcoming patients, checking them in and taking their fees when they leave along with booking them in for their next appointment, plus answering the telephone.
Just imagine if you were a first time caller to your practice enquiring about the cost of an implant or if adult ortho was painful – how well would you be handled? Or turn it the other way round: you have just spent 45 minutes in the chair and you are a tad phobic, you have had a block and quite a deep filling with plenty of drilling and you just want to pay for your treatment and get the hell out of there so you can pick your kids up from school, but just as you are about to get to reception the receptionist answers the phone to a new patient enquiry and the caller wants to know how quickly she can have a bridge repaired. You wait patiently but can’t help feeling very annoyed; the call drags on for 10 minutes but feels like four hours! You feel annoyed with the practice.
Ask any experienced professional receptionist how long it takes to explain how adult orthodontics works, how invisible the braces are or why it costs between £2,400 and £3,500 depending on the individual requirement. To do the job properly takes around 20 minutes.
We also know that the conversion rate of new patient enquiries from first contact to agreeing the treatment plan ranges from 30 per cent to 90 per cent depending on treatment type and, critically, how the call is handled from the patient’s perspective.
In addition, have you ever noticed how harassed the receptionists look when you walk in to the practice at 10am on a Monday morning, their stressed faces trying to look effective and welcoming and the reception desk looking untidy – not a great way of relaxing a nervous patient. And let’s face it, most patients are nervous however well they know the dentist – calm and kindness is what they desire most.
The business hub
The answer we have developed successfully for a large number of practices of all sizes is to create a business hub. Don’t let the name frighten you! A hub could be just one person, and the idea is simple: you move all the inbound and outbound patient communications from the reception area to a back office (this could be onsite, next door or 40 miles away).
The inbound is all patient calls about booking or changing an appointment time and new patient enquires. Outbound is appointment reminder systems, follow-ups and re-activation of non-returning patients. The hub covers all communication channels: telephone, email and, yes, the mail.
“That makes sense but how on earth can I justify the expense?” I hear you shout.
Aside from all the benefits to service delivery, calmness and efficiency being the big wins, you’ll see a significant incremental increase in the conversion rate of the new patient enquiries: it is reasonable to expect the conversion rate in most practices to double.
More importantly it gives you scalability in growing your new patient numbers, with the ability to turn up your marketing volumes knowing full well that they will be converted without any wastage.
If you would like to talk to me about setting up a hub for your practice, whatever your practice size, please call me and, by the way, if you have more than one practice there are considerable economies of scale – it really does not matter if one practice is top end private and one is NHS.