By Bridget Burris

We all know how we feel when we see “that” patient on our schedule for the day. Dread and anxiety set in and our day is already starting out with a negative attitude. No fun at all!

Ben taught me the concept very early on that 95% of our problems are caused by 5% of our patients. We were in our first office for about 3 weeks when a patient and his mom came in for the initial consult. They showed up 15 minutes late and were horrified at the price of orthodontic care (it was around $4200 at the time). Mom explained that the only way they could commit to treatment was if we could guarantee an after-school appointment for each and every visit. In addition to this she wanted me to call her ex-husband and arrange the monthly payments through him as the judge ordered in their divorce decree (she handed me a copy). Being new to the TC game, I simply wanted the start, but my hubby was wise and said NO WAY!! I was aghast that Ben didn’t want to start this case as our debt was huge and we needed every start we could get but I went along with him. I had to call Mom and let her know that we were recommending she seek another opinion and was forced to hold the phone away from my ear as she screamed at me and called us names. She just couldn’t believe that we were refusing to treat her child!

I think of this case so often as it is important to recognize the red flags early and react accordingly.  Here is a list of red flags I regularly see in the new patent visit:

  • Need split contracts due to divorce
  • Workers comp case
  • Legal issue case
  • Lateness
  • Several no-shows
  • Cannot miss school
  • Cannot miss baseball/cheer/football/band practice
  • Bad mouthing previous orthodontist
  • Bad oral hygiene
  • Refusing X-rays or pictures
  • Telling us that fluoride is bad
  • Overly aggressive or demanding parent
  • Child who is disrespectful to the parent
  • Patient who says straight out that they “don’t want braces”

Be sure to keep in mind that just because a parent or patient comes into your office flying one of these red flags does not mean that they are irreconcilable problems to be shunned. It is the accumulation of several of these traits that tend to cause us to politely suggest the problem parent or child seek treatment elsewhere. We cannot run a business and be turning new patients away because they are five minutes late or because they come from a divorced family and we are not suggesting you do so either. We are talking about recognizing truly unhappy or unreasonable people in the new patient consult and helping them find someone else to terrorize.

I once had a Mom with two daughters who walked in while I was at the reception desk – mom had the records from another orthodontist and was very obviously mad about something. I sat her down and she proceeded to let me know how terrible this other orthodontist was and that he would not work with her schedule at all!  Of course I assumed that she was requiring after school appointments but something made me ask questions and listen to what she had to say. It turned out she was a teacher and needed 11:30am appointments each time because that fit into her schedule. I, of course, told her that I was willing to guarantee those appointment times because they are traditionally among the most difficult for us to fill. Mom paid in full for both her children AND herself that day and the three of them were absolute pleasures in the practice. I’m so glad I listened to her instead of assuming what she was going to say based on a single red flag!

We need to be conservative and wise in who we turn away of course but I’m basically encouraging you not to treat every single person who comes into the practice as we all know we cannot please everyone. Sometimes it’s just not worth it to start the case because we have to remember that one bad apple can spoil the entire barrel!

If you pay attention to the red flags and eliminate “those” patients on your schedule on the front end, you and your team will enjoy your time at the office even more than you do now. Next time we can talk about how to remove a problem patient from your practice if you failed to see the red flags on the front end.

Keep smiling! 🙂