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Monday, May 14, 2012

Survival of the Fittest: Are You Starving While Standing On A Food Source?

 By: Debra Quarles
Salt DPM Consultant
Part 1 of 2

Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, tells a haunting tale.

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sight seeing trip over the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. When the plane crashes only three survive. Injured and starving, the survivors hunker down in a lush, green field and wait for help. It seems there is no easy way to rescue them. Days pass. The army is unsure what to do. Japanese soldiers may be hidden in the jungle and there are thought to be cannibals who inhabit the valley. Finally a decision is made. The army doesn't know how to get the survivors out, so instead they send in more men, paratroopers. The initial group, who are hungry beyond belief, are stunned when one of the paratroopers, a medic, reaches down and pulls up one of the plants that surround them. For days they'd gone hungry because they didn't realize they were standing on a field full of food, sweet potatoes to be exact. The group is at least saved from starving. Eventually, with no other choice, they all walk out of the jungle on their own.

This same story is carried out in dental practices every day. Often, when we have a problem we wait too long to fix it, worrying about the hidden dangers that might lurk. Sometimes we think the answer is to "throw" more people at the problem - which might mean hiring a new team. And many times the answer is right below our feet and perhaps there is even someone in our group who knows it. Hopefully, at some point the team realizes they must do something to save themselves.

Identifying the challenge:
Trendsetters are monitored closely. Merchandisers want to know what the next big thing is going to be. If it is discovered that a certain kind of shoe is the next rage, buyers for department stores want to have it in stock. Reacting to trends in your dental practice is not so different. You want to identify the trend quickly and be prepared - proactive versus reactive. The challenge seems to be when you are proactive it means the situation barely exists. Many do not even consider the challenge important until they've finished the month and recognized the goals were not met or bills, paid.

Why do we clean our medicine cabinets regularly? Because medications lose effectiveness or might even cause a health problem. Why should you look at your systems regularly? The same reason. Your current system may have lost its effectiveness with patients or might even be killing your practice.

For example: We see the patient in hygiene. The hygienist explains how important frequency is along with a myriad of other thoughts. She releases the patient to the front desk who schedules the patient for six months and lets the patient know that if the appointment doesn't work, "just call us". No commitment to appointment, no value to frequency.

Let's get proactive. Say your practice is experiencing a large number of cancellations and no shows. Is your response to say, "We are having a rough week, I bet next week people won't have the flu?" Or do you realize you must act now and check to make sure you are consistent in the handling of cancellations and no shows.

1.    Review your system.
2.    Evaluate the dialog for effectiveness.
3.    And/or try something entirely new.

When the system is not giving you the desired results it's either lack of consistency or a system in need of change. Remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We can't make patients show up, but we can control the creation of a short call list. We can't control illness, but we can control our dialog regarding the importance of the patient's commitment to the appointment.

And we can make changes. Are you having difficulty with patients keeping the hygiene/exam appointments? This has been a challenge for offices ever since the verbiage of "it's just a cleaning" gained ground. It's not just a cleaning and exam. It's a hygiene appointment including oral cancer screening, and periodontal evaluation. You will be checking for teeth that are decaying, or cracking . . . it's important. Make it sound that way!

During the hygiene appointments there is so much information given. Some patients will not be able to remember it all, so before each patient leaves sit them up, look them in the eyes and say the following dialog. "If there's only one thing you take from your visit today, I would like it to be . . . you need us to remove bacteria below where your toothbrush can get." Or, "you have periodontal disease." Or, "we should see you in July." Leave them with just one important thing to remember and they will.

Recognize that sometimes the challenge with canceling and no showing is that the patients may not really own their problem. Perhaps you need to give them additional education in a unique format – a personally made video sent via email? Perhaps the periodontist is needed to collaborate? Bottom line: don't sit and wait for your situation to change, act.

Debra Quarles is a coach/consultant with Salt Dental Practice Management. Savor success and learn more at www.saltdpm.com or contact her at info@saltdpm.com.
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                          Article first published with Tri-county Dental Association.

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