Basic requirements for patient management
Adopting the patient perspective
Patient management is still a source of difficulty for many practices. After all, this term is often associated exclusively with processes that are part of daily routine anyway: namely appointment scheduling and patient administration. But actually, there is more to it than that. It is worth taking a look at hospitals, where proper patient management forms the basis of standardized and smooth processes.
Patients who feel well cared for and comfortable. A team that does not descend into chaos and enjoys coordinating all patient-relevant matters. A practice that is characterized by plannable daily routines and maximum efficiency. On all three levels, the goals are clearly defined, and achieving them is easier than expected. Because once it has been well established, smooth patient management quickly yields initial results.
Let us start with the basic step – appointment scheduling. Many practices boast about using an appointment scheduling system. In reality, however, patients often still easily wait 30 to 45 minutes before being asked into the treatment room. It goes without saying that having to wait for 45 minutes for a prophylaxis appointment which typically takes some 15 minutes does not make patients happy. Are appointments generally scheduled too tightly? Are insufficient buffer times scheduled throughout the day for emergencies? Were the treatments before this patient calculated incorrectly? All of these critical questions should be posed. How to respond in the short term? Again, the magic word is patient management. Patients will appreciate a short telephone call if it becomes clear that their scheduled appointment will be considerably delayed. The patient may not be on the way yet and have the opportunity to simply take off a bit later. Or the patient may take care of some things on the way or gladly pick up a cup of coffee. Clearly, all of these options are far superior to having an annoyed, poorly updated patient under time pressure sitting in the waiting room.
Needs-oriented appointment management
Let us discuss the topic of appointment management a bit further because many additional options are available to improve patient service. It is worth looking into the private sector, where the option of online scheduling is considered particularly convenient, whether for booking a hotel stay or a restaurant visit. Why not use this convenient option for practice visits? For example, an online appointment tool can be easily integrated into your website. In some profile packages, review portals offer the option of an online appointment tool as well. In addition to appointment scheduling through the account, the interface can also be placed on your own website directly through a source code. When doing so, it is essential to ensure the technical integration of relevant safety certificates and compliance with the EU Data Protection Directive.
However, even the best appointment tool is useless if background processing fails. Your team should promptly confirm the appointment and of course synchronize it with the appointment calendar at the practice. It is very annoying when appointments are double-booked or are ultimately not available due to long internal processes.
Overcoming communication barriers
Of course, basic communication skills are essential for good patient management as well, most notably in email and telephone communication. There should be standard wording for greeting a caller. It should include the name of the practice and the name of the person on the telephone as well as a friendly introductory question (“How can I help you?” “What can I do for you?”). It should be delivered not in an annoyed or stressed manner, but in a friendly, courteous and attentive way and in an appropriate tone of voice. If the line is busy or no one is available to answer the telephone at the moment, have a queue system that communicates to the caller that someone will be available soon. Take advantage of the queue to provide service information on new offers or services that you would like to highlight. Outside office hours, an answering machine should always be activated. Carefully select the staff member to record the message since friendliness and empathy are “audible” on the answering machine as well. In addition to your opening hours, it may be helpful to include the numbers of the dental emergency service or the pharmacy emergency service. Holiday and training closures, etc., should be communicated through your answering machine well in advance as well. After the call is always before the call – as the term suggests, calls should be answered as well -- in a timely manner.
The same applies to emails. If you offer patients the option of contacting the practice via email, appropriate amounts of time should be dedicated to this means of communication as well. Email is a fast and dynamic communication tool and is associated with rapid and direct interaction. As an internal rule of thumb, emails should therefore be answered within 24 hours. Also consider that a patient who sends an email to you has consciously chosen this communication tool. It is certainly easier to phone the patient to answer the respective questions, but presumably, the patient will feel more comfortable with an answer via the same means of communication. In this case as well, ensure a professional approach by including a formal salutation, correct spelling, time for a friendly closing expression, the name of the responding staff member and the practice signature. In email correspondence, the provisions of the country-specific directives must be complied with as well.
Patient management +Plus
Particularly in patient management, it is important to create special added value and to distinguish yourself from competitors. For example, offer special employee slots around noon that are reserved for this target group. A business slot in the evening creates considerable added value for working individuals as well. The same applies to dedicated family consultation hours, for instance for prophylaxis visits. The whole family can then conveniently have a single appointment rather than coordinating separate appointments for each family member individually
Many practices want to establish professional tooth cleaning and polishing as a wellness service. Why not offer it on one Saturday each month? You will benefit from your patients being much more relaxed since they do not need to fit the professional tooth cleaning and polishing between other appointments but specifically take the time for this service on a Saturday -- and thereby attach great importance to prophylaxis as you would like for them to do.
Whether you offer early or late hours or slots for specific target groups – communicating these distinctive features is important. Gain your patients’ appreciation by offering service and smooth patient management – they will reward you with their loyalty and word-of-mouth recommendations.