For many practices, the challenge of increasing their income is one that can be a significant preoccupation. Increasing the number of new patients to address gaps in an appointment book is a logical step and usually the main focus of efforts to improve the situation. What tends to receive less attention though is how to go about converting the number of treatment plan proposals put forward into actual courses of treatment, something that could solve both income and diary utilisation challenges.
When asked, ‘what percentage of patients who are offered treatment options make a positive choice and commence a course of treatment?’ – most practices struggle to provide an accurate answer. As such, they are unaware if there is a problem that needs solving, let alone being able to assess if efforts to improve things are having an effect.
So, measuring and analysing that figure is a good place to start. But what do you do if the plan uptake is not quite at the level you want?
More and more practices are introducing simple management processes to increase treatment plan uptake. These processes need constant monitoring and fine-tuning. Defining your process will lead to interesting questions. While some people may say that it should start with the introduction of the treatment plan options, the patient’s view might say that it starts with the initial phone call to book an appointment, or even the way the practice and its services come across on its website. From a patient’s perspective, it could be that the process actually only ends when the treatment has been concluded successfully or when they receive a call from the practice following treatment completion to check how they are feeling.
Mapping all the current steps between these two extremes and which member of the practice team is involved at each stage can be enlightening, as can the challenge to consider if each stage is handled in the best way for the needs of the patient.
The customer view
Understanding the needs of your patients is vital as they move towards a decision about their treatment options. That means considering what information patients need at what stage and then identifying the right person with the skills, knowledge and, crucially, the time to help the patient.
For example, for a patient new to the practice, who is the first person they should meet and what should be covered? How is their expectation set during the first phone call? If a patient doesn’t make a decision on the day, how soon is it appropriate to make a follow-up call?
While of course it’s essential that the patient understands the benefits and risks of a particular treatment option, this is not just about gaining consent. It is about understanding all the things that can influence a patient as they build up to making the commitment to a treatment plan. So, don’t forget about practical considerations like travel arrangements or how best to fund the treatment.
Everyone in the practice team has a role to play in the patient journey. Take some time to properly map all of the potential contact points with the aim to agree the best process and ensure that every team member is clear about their role and their responsibilities. Involving everyone can help to identify and eliminate unnecessary steps and improve efficiency for both the practice and the patient. And, most importantly, it increases the chance of getting the right outcome for all parties.
Without some measurement of treatment plan uptake, how will you know if all the effort you and your team has put in to perfecting the patient journey has paid off? Of course, how your practice income is fairing is the ultimate measure but it could mask untapped potential or be skewed by a one-off high-value course of treatment.
Therefore, deciding what to measure is extremely important. But remember, this shouldn’t be a one-off exercise – develop a culture of measurement in the practice so that capturing information is part of your daily routine. Then ensure you schedule regular meetings with the team to analyse and discuss the results of your activity.
Keeping track of the number of treatment plans offered and taken up each month will allow you to track the percentage of treatment plan uptake so that you can monitor if it’s improving or worsening as you evolve your patient journey.
This is all fairly common sense but it can seem a daunting prospect, so allow the time to start with some basic data capture sheets, improve your knowledge to extract data from your practice management software and, ideally, acquire an understanding of how you can use Excel spread sheets. Things can develop from there as confidence grows and the value of efforts becomes apparent.
Overall, when it comes to the uptake of treatment plans, in far too many practices, both patients and practice owners are left dissatisfied. Therefore, taking the time to thoroughly critique your approach to offering treatment plan options can be beneficial for all.