Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Don't fumble the Hand-Off

I am always sad when the football season is coming to an end. It is my favorite sport and, even when I am traveling, I will seek out sports bars or watch the games on the free Southwest Airlines TV. Football reminds me of the dental office in a lot of ways because of the teamwork involved to pull off some of the plays, especially the hand-off. It’s the hand-off between the back and the front office that requires a lot of teamwork and practice.

The hand-off between the front and the back needs to be a well-choreographed dance in order for the patient to leave feeling well taken care of and leave the team with all the details in place. The patient hand-off does not just happen by chance. It is a system in the office that requires practice and a lot of communication. There are a few different ways to perform the hand-off depending on what works best in your office and how much technology you want to integrate into your office. What works best in your office is when the entire team is all on the same page and willing to participate 100%. This means everyone on the team must agree to the system, learn the system and practice the system until he or she feels comfortable with it. This way, you will minimize the possibility of a fumble.

  • The verbal hand-off will only work if you are handing off to a team member who is not on a phone call or helping another patient. If you are going to use the verbal hand-off in your practice and your front office team member is on the phone or helping another patient, you will need to wait until you have his or her full attention so you can transfer the important details for the checkout process. Many offices are using headsets or walkie-talkies for this and it works well if you create a good system of communication.
  • A paper hand-off can work extremely well by using the Dentrix Route Slip or the Visit Form. Even though I help dental practices transition from paper charts to electronic health records, using a paper communication tool can be a lifesaver in a busy office. Using a Route Slip or Visit Form will allow you to easily transfer the key information to your front desk team, even if they are finishing up a phone call. Then just shred them at the end of the day. No worries!
  • The electronic hand-off is a fairly new and up-and-coming system that is working well in the dental office. There are new ways to send information up to the front desk using your computer and instant message. The electronic communication systems do require more technology training and buy-in from your team. Many offices are using the Dentrix DentaLink instant messaging system to send up a message to their front office before the patient walks up to the front with all the details needed to check out the patient and schedule their next visit. This system is included in your Dentrix customer service plan and you can try it out to see if it might work for you. A new system that has come on board with Dentrix is a dashboard called Simplifeye. It lets you drag and drop your patient appointments into and out of the treatment rooms, send messages and helps track time spent in the practice. It also comes with your Dentrix customer support plan or you can upgrade to the premium plan that syncs to your iWatch and iPhone.

The hand-off is a communication system that cannot go untouched. This system is the last impression your patient will have with the practice until he or she returns for the next visit. It is a representation of your team, your practice and can be a make-or-break moment for an awesome review. Show your patients that you do not fumble on the hand-off and that you have a seamless transition from the back to the front.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Don't let patients fall through the cracks!

Still thinking of a New Year’s Resolution? I have one for you . . . “Don’t let patients fall through the cracks!” You have everything at your fingertips so that this does not happen and I want to make sure you know how to use all the tools available to put together a solid system for managing your patients.

Whether you are using the Dentrix eCentral system or another third-party offering, most of you are using a third-party software for electronically communicating with your patients via text messages and emails. These third-party software vendors can put together an automated system, so you can communicate with your patients for confirming appointments and reaching out to patients who are not scheduled. We must remember that this automated system cannot reach 100% of your patients and you will need to have an in-office system to supplement it.

Don’t put your automated system in place and then forget about it. You want to be observing patients’ interactions with the emails and text messages to get a feel for how they are using it. Do you need to educate your patients on how to confirm their appointment or request an appointment? Also, make sure your automated system integrates well with your Dentrix software so you are receiving updated notifications. If patients are not interacting with the automated messages, then take the time to educate them and you will see much better results. With this being said, the Dentrix eCentral system is the most integrated system available with the highest-level features available.

Now, with your in-house system, it is important to keep tabs on those procrastinating patients who have not scheduled a follow up visit. Your patient retention depends on it. The offices that have high patient retention build in time to work the reports and follow up with patients.

There are three extremely important lists that are critical to your patient retention numbers. These reports require attention and it will be important for you to delegate these reports to the team members accountable for managing the recare and treatment.
  • Unscheduled List – These are patients who have already been on your schedule or they need an appointment now so usually they just need a phone call from you to call them back in. There are two ways to add someone to the Unscheduled List -- Using the Wait/Will Call button in the appointment or to Break the appointment. To read more about the Unscheduled List . . . CLICK HERE
  • Continuing Care Report – When you are looking for patients who are past due for their regular hygiene visit, this is your next go-to list. This list can be customized to search for patients who are current or way past due. You can also search for Prophy, Perio, X-rays, exams, ortho or other specialized continuing care type that you have set up in your practice. I would create some custom report parameters so that you can easily create a customized list for what type of appointment you need to fill your schedule. For more information on the Continuing Care Report . . . . CLICKHERE
  • Treatment Manager Report – This is probably my favorite report in Dentrix because it is a gold mine. The goal of this report is to find patients who have unscheduled treatment. This is your chart audit. You can use this report to fill the doctor’s schedule or the hygiene schedule. I would definitely work this report into your regular routine at least once a week. To read more about the Treatment Manager Report . . . . CLICK HERE

Hey, I know it might seem old-fashioned to pick up the phone and call someone, but think of the benefits. No more patients falling through the cracks! You are in control and how full your appointment book is depends on you, your team and your systems.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

In-office Membership Plans . . . tips for success

How is your January 2018 TO-DO list coming along? In this day and age where many of your patients do not have dental benefits, you may be thinking this might be a good time to start an in-office dental plan where you can offer a membership type of program to help patients afford their much-needed preventative care. These types of membership plans are popping up in dentistry, chiropractic and vision offices. If you are thinking of creating an in-office membership plan for your non-covered dental patients on your own, make sure you abide by your state laws and have your practice attorney look over the plan before you roll it out.

Once you have all the details in place and you are ready to launch, there are some details in your Dentrix software that will need some setup. I would recommend creating a tip sheet for your office team on how the accounting and management of your in-office plan will work. The following recommendations are based on how other offices have set up their Dentrix software and are not considered legal advice. The goal is for you to create a system where you can manage your patient’s ledger effectively and be able to follow up with patients when their plans are about to expire.
  1. Create a new Billing Type definition for your families who sign up for your membership plan. Go to the Office Manager > Maintenance > Practice Setup > Definitions and either create a new definition or edit one that you are not using. One thing to remember here is that a billing type is assigned to the entire family and is not patient-specific. Therefore, if you have a patient in the family not on the membership plan, this could cause some confusion.
  2. Since most of these in-office membership plans have a reduced fee schedule, my recommendation would be to create a separate fee schedule to attach to the patient so that the ledger will post the correct fee. This way, you will not have to use an adjustment. Go to the Office Manager > Reference > Fee Schedule Maintenance, then click on New, give your fee schedule a name and copy from your full office fee schedule. Then select your new fee schedule and click on View/Edit and you can reduce the fee schedule by a percentage that matches your plan details.
  3. Contrary to the dental insurance fee schedules, this in-office membership fee schedule will be attached to the patient’s family file located in the demographics section directly below the primary provider ID.
  4. Next, I would create a new continuing care type so that you can track when the patient is due for renewal. This new continuing care type would be set on a yearly interval and linked up to the new procedure code you will need to create in order to post the membership fee to the patient’s ledger. Go to the Office Manager > Maintenance > Practice Setup > Continuing Care Setup and then create a new type.
  5. Finally, you will create the procedure code for the in-office plan. Go to the Office Manager > Maintenance > Practice Setup > Procedure Code Setup and click on New. Fill in all the appropriate fields (description, ADA code, abbrev code), then make sure to attach the new continuing care type you just created, add a fee to the new fee schedule you created, make sure to check mark “do not bill to insurance” and, in the drop-down menu for treatment area, I would select “mouth” so it does not ask you for a tooth number.

Now you are ready to launch your new in-office membership dental plan for your non-insured patients and help those patients afford preventative care. This is a great value-added service for your patients and an awesome marketing tool.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Preparing for Successful Accounts Receivable

So what’s first on your January checklist for 2018? If you are looking at your year end report and thinking improving the cash flow in the office and bringing down the accounts receivable is a good place to start, then let’s tackle that first. Managing your accounts receivable is a team approach and having a system in place is critical to the success of your practice. You can treat patients all day and increase your production, but if you don’t have a system to collect the patient’s portion, you could find yourself struggling to make payroll in the middle of the month.

In this day and age, we must be able to prepare an accurate treatment plan estimate by using the most up-to-date insurance information we can obtain and be able to offer financial options for our patients, so they can afford treatment. You will build trust with your patients when you can be open and honest about the limitations of insurance benefits and help patients budget for the expense of dental care. Creating a system for this process is a combination of using outside third-party information, new verbal skills for your team and holding patients accountable for payment.

Locating the most up-to-date insurance benefit information has become one of the most time-consuming tasks in the dental office and a necessary one if you want to be able to offer information to your patients and give a more accurate estimate. We all know, however, this information is not 100% accurate and is always only an estimate. The way we collect this information in the dental office has gotten better over the years and now the team spends less time on the phone waiting for a customer service representative to provide the details of the dental benefits. The DentrixeCentral Insurance Manager has really been able to bridge the gap between the dental practice and the insurance companies. What I am seeing in the dental practices I work with is that the Dentrix Insurance Manager is the first line of defense and then the team may have to use the insurance company website for a couple of insurance companies that have chosen not to participate. The details received from the insurance companies through eCentral or the online insurance portal are totally sufficient for preparing a treatment plan estimate for the patient.

With the right verbal skills, the financial coordinator can present the treatment plan without having to send in a pre-estimate or call the insurance company for more details.

Here are some examples of one sentence add-ins that can make a huge impact in your presentations.

               “Based on the information we received from your insurance plan, we are estimating your out of pocket will be ___________” (I always give the patient a print out of the eCentral insurance benefits and save a copy to the Document Center).

               “This estimate is formulated from the information we receive directly from your insurance company and your estimated out of pocket will be _____.”

After you schedule the patient for the treatment, it is important to communicate the patient out of pocket for that appointment, so your entire team will know how much the patient owes that day. It is good to put the co-pay in a place that the entire team has access to and is very visible. My favorite place is in the appointment note because it will show up as a little musical note on the appointment book and also it will print on the patient Route Slip or patient Visit Form.  With the new DentrixPay add-on you can even store the patients credit card for easier payment at check-out.

Finally, you will have patients who end up with a balance even when you prepare the best estimate and you need a system to follow up and manage these balances. My favorite report for managing account balances is the Collection Manager report. You can filter this report and generate a report that gives you exactly what you want to see. This report is fantastic because you can see the last statement date, the last payment date, the aging and many more details. What I love about this report is that you can work it directly from computer and not print it. You have all the tools you need on the toolbar to make notes in the Office Journal, send a collection letter from the Quick Letters and view the ledger. 

If you want a tip sheet on the Collection Manager, please CLICK HERE to email me directly. In my next blog, I will tackle how to monitor your production goals in Dentrix so this year can be your most productive year yet.