How patient notes help you run a successful practice

Have you ever spoken to a patient in detail, gone back to refer to your notes about it and realized you forgot to write the note in the first place? Come on, there’s gotta be at least 1 of your patients you somehow missed writing your notes for? Okay, maybe you happen to be excellent at writing up all of your notes in a timely manner but, what about your staff?

One of the best ways to maintain a smooth running office is by writing notes. I will explain the many aspects of how writing notes maintains a healthy flow of the front office and ultimately the practice as a whole. I will also share my personal experiences to depict how the absence of notes can hurt the practice.

Customer service is extremely important in maintaining established patients AND obtaining new patients, we already know this. What does this have to do with notes? Think about the last time you called customer support due to some type of equipment malfunction in your practice. You or a staff member, were probably on hold for a (LONG) while and transferred to someone else at some point. Sometimes you might be transferred several times before you get to the right person. It is super annoying if you have to keep repeating your issue each time you get transferred. If the first person would have written  a note in the first place, the next person could just take a moment to read it, then ask questions that would lead you closer to a solution, right? Going further with this, what if you have to call them again for the same issue and they didn’t have detailed notes about your first call? Considering you’re running a busy practice, you hardly have time to be sitting around repeating yourself. (I don’t tend to have this issue with Patterson or Dentrix they have great customer service compared to some of the other vendors I’ve worked with.)

The most successful practices I’ve encountered, have a good note system in place, throughout the back and front office. This sounds easy to incorporate and unless you’ve analyzed your practice thoroughly, you might think your practice is doing fine in this regard. To help you examine your practice, take a look into your practice software or paper charts at the following items:

  • Accounting Notes – Why are adjustments being made? What date of service do they apply to? If there are credits, is it clear if it belongs to the insurance or the patient? Are phone calls being made regarding past due balances?
  • Claim Notes – Are there notes explaining why claims are outstanding and the representatives name that was spoken with? Is it clear if actions were taken or if the note was only regarding the inquiry?
  • Insurance Notes –  When was the plan verified or updated? Is detailed information noted in the proper section of your software?
  • Follow up Notes – Are there notes to follow up on a conversation, running payments, scheduling treatment, call on claims?

These are just a few of the most important notes in regards to making sure you are getting paid.

Have you ever read a hygienists notes? They usually incorporate smaller details such as if a patient is going on vacation soon, they are expecting a grand-baby, getting a new pet, buying a house, etc… Here is where you can go above and beyond for your patients and stand out as an extremely caring dentist and staff. The next time you see these patients, you are able to relate to them on a personal level and follow up on a previous conversation. The patient feels special and thinks you have a great memory. The entire staff should do this based on conversations they’ve had with the patient.

On the other hand, not writing any of the above notes can be detrimental to your patient retention. Should your staff forget to write notes pertaining to account conversations or why patients have not scheduled treatment or even failing to note that a patient is moving away, is simply neglectful. When I train staff for the front office, I always remind them that they should do all in their power to avoid sounding “stupid”. This may sound a little harsh but it’s true. What does a patient think when the front office calls to offer an appointment but they had already informed someone that they would be on vacation through that extended period of time? What about if the patient asked for a payment arrangement and made an agreement with the financial coordinator but, because of the lack of notes, the next person called regarding the balance? Not only is the patient frustrated but yes, your office sounds stupid and incompetent. From experience, patients will leave your practice if this happens regularly.

I will give you one more important example of when notes are very valuable – Staff turnover. As someone who has helped various dentists with staffing and personally temping until a permanent replacement is found, lack of notes is my biggest pet peeve! The job of the front office is pretty repetitive in most cases and for most dental front office veterans, jumping in and picking up should be a breeze, however, if various patients lack detailed notes regarding treatment, accounts, payment arrangements, insurance claims or any other relevant details, it delays that staff member’s productivity and inevitably converts them into a front office detective trying to piece together the clues.

I definitely recommend you take a deeper look to see how your office is doing with this and discussing it at your next staff meeting.

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