We are very pleased to be joined in this video by a special guest: Christi Bintliff, FAADOM. She’s the Practice Administrator at Opens a new tab to Croasdaile Dental Office’s website Croasdaile Dental Arts and an amazing coach with Opens a new tab to Leap 2 Solutions’ website LEAP 2 Solutions.
Christi has had a long-term relationship with Roadside – she’s worked with us since 1999 (the very beginning!)
As a rockstar within her own practice, Christi’s positive attitude and infectious enthusiasm are proof of her vast experience and outstanding leadership. Angela and Whitney invited her to join them to discuss some of the challenges dental practices are facing as they prepare to reopen after the COVID-related closures and as they navigate their next few months.
For those who would prefer to read instead of watch, Christi’s insights from our Q+A discussion are outlined below!
Helping your team feel confident during reopening
What some of your tips to help the team feel confident with new operating procedures and answering patients’ questions?
Your team is going to have a lot of anxiety coming back to work, so you have to make them feel comfortable. To do this, we made them part of the process.
First we developed our relaunch Standard Operating Procedure, and then shared it with the team a couple of days before a scheduled Zoom meeting for questions and answers. So they had time to read through it and get a good understanding of what the processes were going to be.
On the Zoom meeting, we told them: “OK – let’s talk about this!” To reassure the team, we sent pictures of what we had been doing in the office to prepare for reopening – barriers, medical-grade purifiers, things of that nature that we’d set up.
We also outlined in the SOP all the PPE we have in the office because they’re concerned about these things. They read the forums just like we do! They get on Facebook and they see that some practices aren’t prepared and some of them are very much on top of it, so we wanted to let them know what we were doing from the very beginning.
We had them come in by department and train in small groups. Each department – admin, hygiene, and assistants – trained in the same way with the same walk-through of the procedures, and then we met back as a group to talk about what we just did and find out if anyone had questions.
We asked: “Do you have any input?” Your team knows your office and your patients a lot better than you might think! Some team members were able to speak up and say “I think we have a better way of doing this or that…” which was GREAT. We had a couple of days to then be able to tweak the system a little bit.
Do you think it’s also important to do role-playing or hold practice sessions?
Our SOP matched the email blast we sent our patients, so when I met with the team we discussed the importance of mirroring those two communications.
So we role-played this with the admin team. And then I threw them some odd questions that I knew were going to come their way – just to see how they would think on the fly. We did the same thing with the assistants and clinical team; they need to be prepared to answer questions.
Practice makes perfect – repetition, repetition!
Are they going to stumble a little bit that first day? Probably! So at the end of the day, meet with the team and ask, “What went well today?” “What do we need to work on for the following day?” And you might need to do that every day that first week until you get that rhythm down.
Role-playing is a valuable tool and it makes the team feel a lot more comfortable moving forward in a live environment.
Business goals and priorities beyond reopening
How should practices shift or adjust their business goals and marketing priorities for the next 3-6 months?
Everything is fluid! Nothing is consistent right now, so you’ve got to be flexible!
The goals we had when we started 2020 are not in line with where we are at now.
That said, dentistry is extremely resilient. Even in downward economies and recessions, dentistry is able to rebound.
The leadership team needs to sit down to determine: “OK, what are our new goals?”
We have to factor in the increase in expenses to keep the environment safe, so we need to budget those things in. I don’t think these new standards are going away any time soon.
If you did not do a fee increase at the beginning of the year, consider bumping up 1% to help cover new expenses. This might be easier than adding a flat PPE fee.
Patients have been out of work, their benefits may not be there. Be empathetic. Finances are a big thing to deal with, so try to look for options that help patients feel like they can afford to come in – like we’re working with them to try to help them through this situation.
Angela: We always recommend setting up a yearly goal and then breaking that up into quarterly goals.
Right now, we’re recommending that practices set up, not just a plan for reopening (0-3 month plan), but then also a 3-6 month plan, and then a 12-18 month plan.
We want to know what the end goal is…plans B and plan C may change, but having your end goal clear in your mind helps everyone stay in alignment.
You’ve got to keep that forward-thinking momentum. Then evaluate: How is your revenue? Is production trending upwards? How are expenses? And adjust as needed.
Reassuring fearful patients
Some patients are going to be afraid to come back. How do we reassure patients with our marketing and communications?
The information we sent out in our email blast conveyed safety and described all the things we have in place. It’s important that you have these things also on your website and your social media so that patients can see them and have an understanding.
I hope everyone is doing a slow ramp-up and not coming back full force because you need to keep in mind that your patients are going to have a lot of questions. When they come in for their appointment they’re going to want to see that you’re taking time to explain. “Let me show you what we’ve done in our practice since we closed. These are the safety barriers – let me show you now that you’re in the office.”
It is important that they feel safe!
Patients will return to dentistry, there’s no doubt about that, but they will be more critical and watchful that everyone on the team is doing the same thing.
So they’re going to be judging you more than ever before. They are going to want to see that from the front to the back and the doctors included – everyone is wearing the PPE correctly, sterilizing the areas properly – they will be watching all of those things so it’s important that we know we’ve got a watchful eye on us right now.
Consistency is key!
Patients will want to see you “confidently leading” – the whole team is saying the same message – they’re “walking the talk” now. If you all are in sync and aligned, then your patients are going to feel that energy and confidence, and then they are also going to feel confident in being there.
Angela: We need to be over-communicating with patients, reassuring them – making sure they know WHAT the new procedures are and WHY it benefits them.
Put everything in “what’s in it for me” language. Remind them that all of these new procedures are for their benefit – here’s how and why. Then if there is a fee adjustment or additional fee for PPE, patients will not just think you’re throwing extra fees at them, they’ll feel confident that you’ve done all of these things for their safety and it makes them more accepting of it.
Make sure the team is confident and getting comfortable with explaining the benefits using that “what’s in it for me” language as well.
We assume that everybody reads our email and reads what’s on our Facebook or Instagram, but people are dealing with COVID information overload. So when you call patients or when they call you, don’t assume they know – they may not have read the information you sent them.
Ask questions: “Are you familiar with the things we put in place to make this a safe and comfortable environment for you as we move through this COVID crisis?” If they say no, this is a great opportunity to explain – another layer of making them feel comfortable and confident.
In dentistry, communication is everything!
I’ve been in dentistry 34 years and one of the first things we did was role-playing those communication skills with patients so you feel comfortable, and the same applies to this.
The way we check in patients is different. In our practice, we’re sending all of our forms electronically, we’re requesting they’re sent back to us before the appointment, and we’re triaging car-side. We’re taking temperatures in the parking lot, so we need to let them know when they arrive to park in the designated parking spot and call the office… they need to know what to expect.
We’ve role-played it, so we actually did it live this week with our emergencies and our patients were blown away at how efficient it was.
But again, you only get there by repetition and role-playing.
I promise you, if you take a couple of days to do these things with your team, it will make your relaunch so much better!
Helping patients overcome new financial barriers
What should practices be doing right now to address financial barriers?
We’ve seen a surge of patients wanting to use their benefits immediately because they fear they may lose their job (and coverage) later. Try to help navigate them and get them in for appointments.
If you don’t have an in-house plan for them, consider getting a membership plan like Opens a new tab to Kleer’s website Kleer to help ease the burden for them.
Some practices don’t offer financing options like Opens a new tab to CareCredit’s website CareCredit – if not, that might be something you’d want to consider, to give patients another avenue.
I don’t think having 5-6 options is a good idea because it becomes a lot to manage. You know your patient base – pick 1-3 things that would work for the different demographics you serve.
Too many options = overwhelming for patients and not cost-effective for the business.
Angela: It’s really important to make all of these options visible and available on your website. Even if you don’t want to lay out all of the details, even just stating “Financial options available” on your site lets people know that you’re able to work with them and you have ways to help them overcome that barrier.
Especially if in the past, you didn’t have anything available, if you’ve now implemented a membership plan or added financial options, patients aren’t going to know that’s an option unless you communicate it.
Patients fear the unknown, especially if they were used to HAVING dental insurance, and now they’ve lost coverage. They tend to view dentistry as … “If I walk through the door it’s going to cost a million dollars and it’s terrifying and I’m going to get slapped with this humongous bill that I could never afford…” So being transparent is key.
And if the patient has a lot of work to be done, if there’s a way to break treatment up into phases to ease the financial burden, that helps too. You develop a relationship and you can see where the anxiety is. That was true in dentistry before this, but even more so now.
What are your tips to help teams succeed with case acceptance?
People process information differently. If you can find the style of communication that the patient wants – visual, verbal, or a combination of both – it helps put them at ease in talking about treatment.
We should never shy away or feel uncomfortable telling a patient what they need, even now. But we have to also listen to them and ask questions. They may not readily accept what you’re presenting. They may need to know if there’s another option.
Read body language. Non-verbal communication speaks volumes.
We may not cue in on it because we’re talking, but we need to just pause, read their body language, and then ask questions. “Is there anything that might be standing in your way? Do you have any questions?” and then – pause and LISTEN. Give them time to process what you’ve asked and then ask some questions.
Final takeaway tips
Top tips for practices about to reopen?
Make patients feel safe and comfortable by letting them know what you’ve implemented in your environment.
Make sure they know your team is fully trained on the new procedures – patients want to know this! If you’re bringing in temp workers, let patients know they are also receiving the same level of training as team members. If that means your temps can’t start with that first appointment because you’re training them, that’s ok. You want them to feel confident and comfortable.
Patients will return to dentistry. Our patients are excited to return. They’re calling, they’re confident in what we’re doing, and we’ve already got our schedules full for the next couple of weeks.
Practices have been closed so you’ve got a backlog of patients, but I hope you’re going to do a slow ramp-up. Consider adding an hour or two at the beginning or end of your day; consider adding a Friday. You want to take care of patients who had to be canceled due to closure. Don’t go too far out, try scheduling for two weeks at a time to avoid burning your staff out.
We have a lot of fun and your patients feed on that energy! They NEED that positive energy, they are seeking it right now!
In downtimes, which we may have – consider patients that your team has really good relationships with. Just call! “I had some free time and I was thinking about you. I just wanted to see how you’re doing and wanted to check on you.” It doesn’t have to be about dentistry. It’s about the relationship.
Thank you Christi for sharing your experience, expertise, and POSITIVE attitude!
Get in touch with Christi at Opens a new tab to Leap 2 Solutions’ website leap2solutions.com.