We all think of the holiday season as a hectic season with holiday parties, shopping and everyday life that never stops.  However, many patients and practice owners don’t think about how crazy a medical office can become in December.

Let’s take a look at why this happens and what to do about it…

Why Does it Get Crazy in Practices in December?

  1. Patients have insurance benefits that expire at the end of the calendar year if they don’t use them.  Many patients procrastinate and realize at the 11th hour that their eye checkup or dental cleaning will go to waste if they don’t make an appointment.  The last few weeks of the year are full of people who procrastinated but want to use their benefits.  And rightly so!  They’ve paid for these benefits, and doctors can get paid by the insurance companies for services.  It’s a win-win for both parties. 
  2. Patients have insurance coverage that ends at the end of the year.  The majority of insurance plans for dental and vision reset on Jan. 1.  With all of the changes in health insurance in recent years, some plans may not include dental coverage or vision coverage in the new year.  If that is the case, many patients will opt to do dental procedures, for example, that they can’t afford to pay for without help from insurance before they lose coverage. 
  3. Patients have flex spending or HSA accounts with money that will expire.  Some health savings and flex spending accounts force you to use your funds by a certain date.  This pushes a lot of patients to undergo dental procedures or purchase glasses to make sure they use those funds.  As with wellness care appointment coverage, you see a huge influx of patients needing to use flex dollars by the end of the year. 
  4. Students are home.  On top of the fact that insurance and flex spending accounts have deadlines, you also have a surge of patients that are home from college or are out of school for holiday breaks.  Those end of the year slots fill up quickly!

What Can a Practice Do?

  1. Educate your patients.  Emails, social media posts and phone calls are a few ways to help encourage patients to book their appointments earlier in the month.
  2. Block out time.  Anticipate that you will have procrastinating patients call your office and have a few slots blocked off for these last-minute appointments.
  3. Know your limits.  Properly knowing your limitations in staffing, physical space and time will help you know how much more your practice can produce during this busy season.  Then, stick to those limitations!  Your staff will thank you for it and your level of patient care will not suffer.
  4. Be ready to refer.  If you are maxed out, you need to be ready to provide callers with other alternatives.  This produces healthy communities of businesses but also improves you overall public image as a practice that gives, even if you don’t get the full monetary reward right away.  What you give is what you’ll get in return!
  5. Observe how this year goes and learn from any mistakes.  It may be too late to change how 2015 ends, but you can learn from what happened.  Just make sure to actually debrief and record your notes in a place you can refer to next fall!

Yes, December presents new challenges to dental and optometry practices, but with proper planning, your practice can have an astounding end to the year!

The Rollens Company wishes you and your staff a wonderful (and prosperous) holiday season!

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