At nearly every initial consulting visit, I am accused of being an alien: “Well, Ryan, your scheduling system is terrific, but how are we supposed to stay on time if our patients do not cooperate? I don’t know what planet you’re from, but here on earth, patients are regularly late for their appointments, have multiple broken brackets, and terrible oral hygiene to boot!”
Well, I promise you that I am an outerplanetary consultant returned from foreign star-wanderings with vast orthodontic wisdom and a keen sense of scheduling. My feet are firmly planted on earth, and I am convinced that by reframing the issue of patient cooperation a practice can turn what was once a dreaded and boring system into a vital part of the practice marketing program.
So, the question for the ages (mostly 6-17): How do we get children and teens to cooperate? It’s really the first principle of the playground: make it more fun and inviting! We must shift from an expectation of Cooperation to an invitation of Participation.
No one wants to feel forced to cooperate with Mom or Dad. You know, the old song, “Signs, signs, everywhere a sign” telling what we can and cannot do in life. To teens, do’s and don’ts are a sort of white noise. They hear it but they cannot process the message clearly because it lacks anything in the message they could care less about.
Instead, teens and younger children love games, and they learn best through play—so, let’s make Patient Participation a game. Why not take all of your marketing and new patient enrollment skills and reframe things so that you not only get the sale, but turn your patients into raving fans who love to participate in the results of their own beautiful smile? — Well, now, that would a good place to be.
There are many ways to issue a participation invitation, but here are a few of ideas:
o Make your patients a part of your team. That is right. From day one everything in the practice should focus on elevating the patient’s mindset from being a patient in your practice to a valued team member, who without their help, the game of braces cannot be won. Explain how you as a team will surround them, the superstar, in their goal to win at the game of braces. Set the rules of the game and then each and every time they have a winning play be sure to enthusiastically cheer them on. Each time a patient a arrives five minutes before their appointment time to be brushed and ready to go on time, by sure to give them a high five to celebrate the win. Enthusiasm is the best marketing investment your practice can make. When you invest a consistent stream of kindness and genuine interest in cheering your patients’ progress to the finish line, then a visit to your practice will become the highlight of their month.
o Start a patient rewards system. We all do better when we have a carrot dangling, rather than a stick. The more points they accumulate, the better prizes they win!
o Publish a set of Rules to the Game of Braces so they know what it takes to win, with an accompanying Report Card. The Report Card can take the form of a scorecard, and when they play by the rules, they score or move towards the finish line of a beautiful, healthy smile! If a patient’s oral hygiene is holding them back, then they don’t score as high or make as much progress that month. If they go too long without enough wins someone will have to talk to the coach about it. But, if the patient is winning they must receive regular rewards, and, if they consistently do well you might offer an opportunity to win even bigger prizes, with contests celebrating one key area of patient participation each month.
Rethink. Retool. Re-energize. Reframe cooperation so that it becomes fun for patients. When your the orthodontic team finds it fun to explain how to play, and win, the game of braces, then your patients are sure to follow. Make your Patient Participation System a fun and enjoyable part of your marketing program where the patient is the superstar surrounded by a team of caring, enthusiastic fellow team members cheering them on to the victory of a beautiful smile that could not be created without them, the superstar!
K. Ryan Alexander, Sr. Consultant