February and its ever-present focus on dentistry is now behind us and for many practices this means that appointments for such procedures will diminish considerably for the next eleven months. Given that the prevalence of dental disease is not a seasonal phenomenon, we recently conducted an extensive analytics project of our partner practices to understand dental diagnoses and historical appointment booking trends among clients. Like most research projects we embark on at VPP, we went beyond the simple data and also looked at protocols and workflows to understand the dynamics at play. It was in this second level of analysis that we came upon a workflow that is commonplace throughout the industry and undoubtedly a significant obstacle for booking more dental procedures. Thankfully, overcoming this impediment requires only a slight alteration to a practioner’s note-taking process, the results of which we predict can be profound.
Tell me if this situation sounds familiar at your practice. We’re in the exam room and during the physical exam, the veterinarian inspects the pet’s mouth and quickly identifies the need for a cleaning. A conversation is had with the client about the findings and what it will take to remedy the situation, a formal estimate may or may not be generated for the procedure, the diagnosis is logged either in the paper chart or in the electronic SOAP notes in the practice’s practice management system, an effort is made to book the appointment for the cleaning then and there, and the client leaves. If the procedure is booked, great! If it isn’t, what happens next? “Nothing” is an all too common refrain. In other words, we’re leaving it up to the client to call back and schedule. Our prior research on reminder compliance has shown that telling a client once about the need to make an appointment and leaving it up to them thereafter will yield a compliance rate of roughly 20%. In other words, if this is your workflow when it comes to dentistry, upwards of 80% of those clients who leave without booking a cleaning will never have it done.
But what if, instead of noting the dental disease diagnosis in either a paper chart or in an electronic SOAP record (a file that is not easily “searchable”), the practitioner entered a line item in the practice management system to indicate the diagnosis? Furthermore, what if once a week or once a month you ran a lookup of patients who had that diagnosis line item entered, eliminated those who had a procedure completed, and called or in some other way reminded the client about the need to book a cleaning? I posit that you begin to do a lot more cleanings! At least that’s what we’ve initially seen at practices where we’ve implemented this change!
Just like vaccinations, exams, preventative medication and any other reminders you setup in your system, dental cleanings require more than one communication with a client to ensure compliance. If anything, dental cleanings, and their higher expense, require more effort on the part of the veterinary practice to ensure the appointment is scheduled. For many pet owners, the expense of a wellness visit and a dental cleaning can be a lot to budget for in a short period of time. That is one reason we observe clients procrastinating on booking a dental the day of the diagnosis. However, by recording the diagnosis in the system and following up shortly thereafter, a practice can enhance its ability to book the appointment and increase the compliance rates of its practitioners’ clinical recommendations.