How many times do you hear “I’ll call you back” in your practice? I’m fairly sure it’s not the majority of time, but it’s definitely enough that you’ve noticed. And if you’re monitoring “pending treatment”, you’ve watched that number grow over the years. Twenty years ago, consultants and practice brokers alike would talk about the fact that the majority of practices had hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars in incomplete treatment in patient’s files; it was a selling point for potential practice buyers. Today, that number continues to grow for lots of reasons … and there ARE positive things you can do about it in your practice.
What does a client mean when they check out at your business office and say “I will call you back” when the business office or scheduling coordinator asked them “Do you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment?” Do you find that all of your clients call you back as soon as possible and schedule their treatment? I seriously doubt it.
When a client says “I will call you back”, it used to mean that they didn’t understand the need for treatment, for the most part. These days, it more often can mean that money is an issue. But, is are those the ONLY things that “I will call you back” means? Absolutely not.
For starters, when a client says “I will call you back”, it might mean:
- I don’t have any money
- I’m not sure what my condition is or why I need treatment
- I want to do more research before I commit to treatment, even get a second opinion
- I honestly need to check my schedule
- Now’s not a good time for me to making plans for receiving care
- I don’t want to do it
- I need to think about it
- It’s hard to get off work
Of course, the client is not TELLING you that, they are simply saying “I will call you back”. It would be so much simpler if they were able to tell us the real reason, wouldn’t it?
Before I get into specific actions you can take to deal with this common issue, let me address the “why” of why people say “I will call you back”.
For most people, it is hard for them to tell their truth. Maybe it’s embarrassing. Maybe they don’t want to appear “stupid”. Maybe they just don’t care (although I bet they do). Whatever the reason, it’s legit, whether we agree with them or not.
One SIGNIFICANT PRINCIPLE every single team member should ask themselves with each and every patient is this: WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP FOR THIS PERSON? How can we PROACTIVELY TAKE ACTION to reduce the number of “I will call you back” at checkout time – or on the phone, if we are following up with our clients? Let me take each one of the items above and discuss them. What I would like for you to look for are common themes; the “messages” we are sending out to our clients; how addressing the client would be consistent with your practice values; and, the ethical and legal responsibilities we have as dentists.
Remember, the patient is not saying these things I listed; they are simply saying “I will call you back”. You don’t know for sure why they are saying it (unless you are a mind-reader). Again, these are PROACTIVE STEPS you and your team can take to address the issue.
- I don’t have any money. Not very often will a person just flat-out tell you they have no money – or at least money they want to spend on dental care. You should always consider putting the patient’s treatment in phases, if possible. That way, if the person, says “I will call you back”, the person attempting to schedule that patient could ask “Would it help to schedule just a portion of your treatment at this time?” Or, that same person might say “We offer financing options that will allow you to get the care you need now and pay it out over time “ (sometimes interest-free, based on the company and programs you are agreeing to); “Would that be something you would be interested in?” Of course, there are many, many things that should happen before this so your scheduling person isn’t stressed with trying to make last-ditch efforts at getting the patient scheduled. The decision to schedule is based on what the clinical people on your team (and you) are doing before the patient ever “goes to the front”. If the scheduling person is unable to address any last-second concerns, a note should be made to contact that patient within a one-to-two-week window following the date of diagnosis, expressing caring and concern for their well-being. Remember, contacting them six months later sends the message that, “Oh, we’ve noticed you haven’t been in, and we have time now for you; can you come in?” Ha! Might as well forget it and wait until the patient shows up for hygiene (if you’re lucky) or has pain, which is always a great motivator to seek treatment.
- I’m not sure what my condition is or if I need treatment. This is a failure to communicate while the patient is on the chair. What can be done when treatment is diagnosed? For one, used educational handouts, either in the form of brochures, customized handouts, photos, radiographs, models or any number of informational aids. Don’t just give these things to them; review it with them – each and every time! Don’t assume that just because a patient has been with you 20 years that they will just take your word at face value and schedule for those three crowns. Review what the problem is, what the solutions are, and address concerns, questions, and objections. Use visual aids whenever possibly; our world has become extremely visual! Don’t stop until the patient feels they truly understand. How will you know? You may not, but here are some good questions: “What questions do you have about the treatment needs that have been diagnosed?” “Before we proceed, what questions for you have about your condition?” Whenever asking a question, please use SILENCE after you ask your question to allow time for the patient to formulate a response. There’s no need for you or your team members to keep talking to show them how smart you are or because you’re nervous or “in a hurry”. Slow down! Give them time to answer, then give them a little more time.
- I want to do more research before I commit to treatment, even get a second opinion. The proactive approach to this is much like in #2. Another question to ask as you are reviewing their condition and treatment needs is to check in with the patient along the way. “Mrs. Smith, does this make sense to you?” Again, use silence after the question and give the patient time to respond. Much like a person reading a sentence and comes across a word they don’t understand – which causes them to not understand anything after that – you will do the same thing if you rush through your “explanation” without pause. This condition is called “explainitis” and is rampant in our profession!
- I honestly need to check my schedule. It is true that most people’s lives are busy, busy, busy. I can’t even say when I’m available for appointments when I’m asked each and every time. Normally I need to not only look at my calendar to see when I’m available, but what things are going on around that time, that day, even that week. To deal with this proactively so that the patient is not lost “through the cracks”, simply state “Mr. Jones, I will call you in two weeks in we haven’t heard from you. What is the best number for me to contact you on?” Notice I am not asking for their approval or permission. If they say “Do not call me”, well, do not call them! Make sure that a note is immediately made somewhere in your dental practice management software, on a calendar, a list, or SOMEWHERE visible each day so that the patient is called as promised … after the schedule is checked, of course, to see if they did call back to schedule!
- Now’s not a good time for me to be receiving care. Just a reminder: they are not telling you this! You don’t know what they are telling you except “I’ll call you back”. What proactive steps can you take here? Try this on:” Mrs. Jones, it sounds like now is not the right time for you to schedule necessary treatment. When would be a better time?” Remember, silence! Let them answer. From their answer, decide what is the next step.
- I don’t want to do it. This is an interesting one, since the patient did come to your office for care and they obviously have some interest in taking care of themselves. My experience is that is usually a failure of the clinical team to do what they should be doing, as stated in the items above. Regardless, it may be of low value to them now that they know the cost. As we know, patients have been putting off care – unless they hurt -for many years now. Personally, I have done more endo in my practice the past few years than ever before – and these are people who have simply neglected receiving care or did not follow through with receiving a simple filling. How can you get someone to move off the spot they are on? One very effective way is to “light a fire under their feet”. What do I mean by that? Draw from your own life experiences. What is something you knew you should do, but didn’t for the longest time, and what changed so that you did do it? Some common examples are exercise; diet; ending friendships or marriages; finally servicing your vehicle after it broke down 30 miles out of town? In a dental scenario, it is morally and ethically advisable to make sure the patient understands the consequences of lack of treatment. These are not threats, nor are they lies. These should be simple truths of what will predictably happen if the patient does not complete treatment. Sure, we all know of the person who kept that non-painful abscessed tooth for 10 years. Does that mean it wasn’t necessary to receive treatment? You and I both know the risks of leaving infection untreated, and we should even be more cognizant of the impact that makes on our general health. Does your patient understand that, too? They should. If not, take the time to help them understand. It may not be THE piece of information that changes their perspective, but it will help them in the long run. We can’t make someone value what we can do for them, but we can help them professionally and ethically understand the value of having healthy mouths and do the things they need to do to keep their teeth, avoid pain, and look their best.
- I need to think about it. Ah, the Internet. The source of all wisdom and knowledge. Once again, the patient is not telling you this (generally), but it is a possible reason for saying “I will call you back”. At the core of this is mostly a lack of knowledge; thus the reason for seeking out information on the Internet, friends, or even other dentists. You can avoid that by being an expert in helping then understand their condition thoroughly and completely; by probing for questions and concerns; by allowing plenty of time between questions and giving them a chance to mentally process what they are being presented; by “checking in” with them during the conversation, simply asking “Does this make sense?”; and lastly, by building trust, rapport, and a solid relationship which will weather your future mistakes. Never underestimate the power of a great relationship. In general, never let the patient leave the treatment room or consult room without doing these things.
“I will call you back” can be diminished greatly, improve your bottom line, help you be of greater service, and do the things that you were trained to do to enrich and enhance the lives of those who choose to see you. Do your part by loving them, treating them in the way you would like to be treated, and taking all the time that is necessary to help them along their path to optimal dental health.