No More Saying “I’m sorry.”

Raise your hand if your office runs on time 100% of the time …
Raise your hand if your office never has to reschedule a patient …
Raise your hand if all your insurance claims are paid, in full, in a timely manner …
Stop reading if you raised your hand; I have nothing to share with offices that are so lucky 🙂
Because we want patients to like us and come back to see us we apologize – profusely sometimes and to no avail – for running behind, insurance not paying as estimated, discomfort during the procedure, the patients home care, etc.  What I have learned, is that people don’t much care if you’re being polite when you say, “I’m sorry”.  More often than not, saying I’m sorry doesn’t really mean anything because we can’t reinforce it with behavior – while we may be sorry, the damage has already been done.
What I have also learned, is that when I say, “Thank you so much for your patience …” patients don’t get as grouchy because I’m asking for gratitude in place of their forgiveness.  This makes for a much happier start to the appointment!  Starting the sentence with Thank you in place of I’m sorry sets the tone and the mood for the rest of the appointment (or phone call).  I know some of you are shaking your head, she’s crazy, yep, I get it.  But I can say with certainty that it has made a huge impact on patient satisfaction. Whether we are running behind, calling to reschedule, or dealing with a tricky insurance situation, thanking the patient for their patience and understanding gets us a lot further than apologizing.
I have a water tumbler that reads “Running late is my cardio” and it’s 110% true about me – I am always late (Huffington Post says that it’s because I’m a genius – we already knew that, right?!).  However, running late at the dental office isn’t the same type of cardio that’s often good for you, or your patients.  To prevent needing to say Thank you, let’s look at some options to help alleviate the need for patient gratitude (or forgiveness)!
There are times in my hygiene schedule when every patient is scheduled for the perfect amount of time for me to complete all the parts of their appointment.  You know these times: patients don’t need anything “extra”, their medical/dental history really hasn’t changed, their calc/biofilm/home care are fantastic, and every patient is 5 mins early.  But we also have the patients that could come in every 3-4 months (even for a prophy) and they look like they’ve never held a toothbrush before.
  • How to alleviate this this in the practice: ADEQUATE APPOINTMENT TIME
    • All care in the office should be needs-based and all appointment times should be too!  I’ve never been a fan of a set appointment time per procedure but prefer set appointment time per patient.  Not all prophy patients require 45-60 minutes and some partially edentulous patients require 75 minutes.  If you set your schedule for the adequate appointment time per patient your schedule is much easier to handle.

There are also times when patients suck the ever living life out of me because everything thing that could require extra time in their appointment does: their insurance changed and they want to know their EXACT co-pay, we have to have an in depth conversation (just like we do every 12-18 mos) regarding why they need xrays or fluoride or power toothbrushes, everything hurts but nothing’s wrong, or they are finally ready to start another phase of their treatment – raise your hand if you’ve been there.  And it never fails that it’s the first patient in the morning and every patient after them – so no matter what, you’re 20 minutes behind.

  • How to alleviate this in the practice: RESCHEDULE
    • We are a high volume practice – it’s not uncommon for me to see 10-12 recare appointments in a day (I run an accelerated hygiene schedule with cross-trained dental assistants who are AH-MAZING) and as much as I do not want to inconvenience the patient with another appointment – I also do not want to penalize my other patients due to new insurance, patient non-compliance, or treatment coordination concerns – so I don’t.
There are times when members of the team are sick, or their child is sick, the office has to close early or open late to accommodate the doctor’s schedule, or their husband forgets to put gas in the car and they have a flat tire so they’re 25 minutes late to work (that may have happened to me once 😉 ) – whatever the reason, we’re all human and sometimes getting to work can be a struggle.
  • How to alleviate this in the practice: CROSS TRAINING
    • Because many offices only hire the number of team members they need, starting patient appointments may be delayed or patients may need to be rescheduled due to life, cross training team members is an excellent way to alleviate running behind when you aren’t fully staffed.
We already know that I have issues with dental insurance and although we notify patients verbally and in writing that we verify their insurance as a courtesy to them — it’s ultimately our fault if the insurance doesn’t pay as estimated (you know, because insurance companies are out for the good of the patient and all 😉 )
  • How to alleviate this in the practice: STANDARD INSURANCE VERIFICATION FORMS(IVF) per insurance company/plan
    • Many offices use an IVF for quick references to maximum, coverage %, and frequencies BUT few practices recognize the intricacies between insurance providers and the number of plans they offer – not all plans are the same even though they may come from the same company – recognizing individual plans and flagging them for additional questions help prevent issues with payment, estimates, and disgruntled patients.*

Hopefully you can work some of these tips into your practice to make some easy changes so you don’t have to say I’M SORRY!  It takes conscious effort to NOT say I’m sorry during the day.  This makes such a positive change to the patient appointment and it is well worth the effort!  Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!!

*See Insurance Benefits: Now What?! post for additional information on this topic.

One thought on “No More Saying “I’m sorry.”

  1. LOVE THIS! I am going to share this with my team during my hygiene huddle and highlight some key points you have made.
    The most beneficial has been me being cross trained to work as a DA or front desk, and my girls in return know how to create an adequate schedule for a productive and not too hectic day for me! (every time I put an insurance in, I give myself a gold star)
    Fun fact – I now double check IVFs when I think something seems off, like insurance not covering sealants or my perio patient not having anything covered. I went to my PSR twice yesterday and had her verify insurance, which ended up saving my patient money and create higher acceptance…aka patient getting the care they needed. WOOHOO!


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