Time to Make Changes in Your Practice? How to Make Them Stick

How easy do you find it to implement changes and make them stick in your practice?

A common challenge that practices have told us about is that they usually find it quite difficult to get changes to take hold. With the best of intentions, people often start out following along with the changes, but then things fizzle out and they go back to their old ways.

This can be incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to make positive improvements.

So, what’s up? Why is change so hard and what can you do to make it stick?

Make those changes stick! Get our checklist here.

Why is change so hard?

Human beings are creatures of habit, but as with anything, some will be better than others at accepting and adapting to changes.

There are multiple reasons that can be cited for this, including the fact that many people just aren’t comfortable with change. On the surface, something might seem like a positive process change that should be easily accepted, but underneath, the person might see some kind of threat in the change. Susanne Madsen put it like this:

“…for the most part, it isn’t the change itself that people resist. People resist change because they believe they will lose something of value, or fear they will not be able to adapt to the new ways.”

Madsen further says of organizational leaders implementing change:

“They often move too fast, are too outcome driven and not sufficiently consultative in their approach.”

Another problem with change can be that people aren’t necessarily resistant to it, however they are prone to relapsing back to their old ways. A Forbes article cited a study that found only 25% of changes undertaken are actually sustained:

“(This) is often a function of how change is pursued. If the need for change is not clear and compelling, if stakeholders are not actively involved in the change process, and if change efforts aren’t seamlessly integrated into daily work, the odds are great that attempts at change will die on the vine. It seems as though motivation—wanting to change—is not enough. We have to feel that we need to change. If change is not an urgent priority, it quickly yields to the status quo.”

So, what happens in your practice whenever you want to make changes? Do things go smoothly? Do you find people resistant? Or, do you find that after an enthusiastic start, people slide back into old habits and the change isn’t sustained?

Without impetus for change, people will always tend to relapse to old ways. Click To Tweet

In our practices, we have experienced these same challenges. We’ve made some pretty big changes in the last couple of years, especially with things like the implementation of Health Assurance Plan. Here’s how we go about dealing with change:

Our Model for Getting Changes to Stick

First of all, we don’t pretend to have all the answers. No matter which way you swing it, people will tend to find change difficult. Just remember that most of the time, people aren’t trying to be overly hostile or resistant, they’re just uncomfortable—which is a typical human reaction.

I can talk about what we have done that has worked for our own practices though, beginning with the principles laid out in the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath (I highly recommend it as a great resource for actionable ideas).

Let’s look at those tenets and how we applied them:

#1. Appeal to the rational and emotional sides of people.

As you well know, there are a lot of pains on both the patient and the practice. Any of these can lead to an emotional response from team members, or the feeling of fear. You have issues like:

  • The hours of frustration when dealing with insurance companies.
  • The heartache of dealing with patients who can’t afford treatments or who get a nasty surprise at how little their insurance is going to cover. Perhaps there’s even some fear when patients react angrily.
  • The worry about job security when revenue is low or the practice has a slow month.
  • The disappointment of losing patients when insurance doesn’t cover enough or they can’t afford treatment.

Those are all emotional minefields, so our strategy is to acknowledge that, but couple those issues with logical solutions. In our case, Health Assurance Plan could provide a practical answer to each of those issues. It reduces admin time, it’s transparent, it keeps steady revenue coming in, and it is appealing to patients who can’t otherwise afford insurance.

#2. Find the bright spots.

This is really about emphasizing the positive stories that are related to the change you are implementing. For us with Health Assurance Plan, that means talking about the individual stories of patients who have had problems and have been able to overcome them with the help of being on the plan.

For our team, the positive stories also come from finding a great alternative to dealing with an adversarial, meddling third party (insurance). Health Assurance Plan is straightforward and easily managed.

#3. Script the critical moves.

We outline the journey to health for our patients and teams alike in our practices. When everyone is speaking the same language, it really helps to make those changes stick.

For example, we talk about the patient journey on our website and with our team all the time. This way everyone knows why we’re doing what we do and can relate the importance of any changes to the parts of that journey.

#4. Point to the destination.

Every patient journey is pointed to the same destination—obtaining and maintaining good health. Knowing where we’re headed and why is important for keeping everyone on track. There’s a saying, “Know the way, show the way, go the way,” that applies to leadership in companies and it’s no different for us. Everyone, from business owner down is aligned on the same path.

It helps that the destination is meaningful too. If we said something more mercenary like “grow our revenue,” that’s never going to be something that everyone feels motivated to get behind.

#5. Find the feeling.

What is the feeling associated with those key goals or that ultimate destination? In our case, good health feels amazing! It’s predictably cheap, takes little time to maintain and lowers the anxiety people have had their whole lives around dental care.

It’s worth pointing out here, oftentimes you’re dealing with something that might be a big change for patients too. Bringing in subscription dental as an option is something new. They may have either been uninsured and not getting regular care, or insured but with the heavy restrictions imposed by an insurance company.

Elements of each of these steps are equally important for encouraging change to stick with patients. Want that amazing, no-stress feeling of good health? That’s a good reason to come in for those hygiene appointments.

#6. Shrink the change.

When change seems huge, it can appear insurmountable. Getting from point A to point Z in a big leap seems intimidating, but going sequentially from A to B and so on until you finally reach Z seems much more doable. This is why we break down our patient journey into six steps.

An action plan helps to bridge the gap between the current state and the desired state by serving as a roadmap for the journey. It’s a great strategy for any sort of change—one reason why so many fail with their “resolutions” is that they don’t have a plan to get there.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

#7. Grow your people.

Some kind of learning or development initiative is often necessary for any kind of change and investing in the development of your own people can pay off well.

We build a self-navigable online learning platform for learning how to deploy Health Assurance in practices, one which we successfully used in our own practice first. We also like to reward team members who take the initiative to learn. It’s all about emphasizing the behaviors you really want to see—this also helps to make change stick.

#8. Tweak the environment.

What can you update about your work environment that will help to emphasize the changes you want made? These might be team or patient-facing items.

For example, when we implemented Health Assurance, we put brochures out for patients to read while they were waiting and updated our screen savers to include a Powerpoint that promoted patient solutions.

If there’s a certain behavior you want highlighted for your team members, consider posters or whiteboards in break areas that remind them of those behaviors.

#9. Build habits.

List the triggers where you want habits to be built in your practice. For example, perhaps whenever an uninsured person walks in, you’d like your team to talk to them about a subscription plan.

Build checklists of what you expect for different trigger situations and remember to add rewards as the desired behaviors become automatic.

This can take a few weeks of emphasis on a daily basis before you see real changes—just remember that being consistent is the key.

#10. Rally the herd.

What are your success stories from implementing the change? Start gathering social proof that will really put momentum behind the change and impetus toward goals. For example, it might be that last year uninsured patients saved over $100,000 at Smith Dental. Or, for your team, you might have a goal to get to a patient base that is 20% Health Assurance where the practice and the patient get to be true partners over time.

With these kinds of stories, goals, and habits being bit, you can help people to not only be comfortable with change, but enthusiastic about it.

Get our checklist here for making changes stick

Final Thoughts

What changes would you like to see in your practice? How easy do you usually find it to get traction with desired changes? It’s often a challenge for practices—human nature means that change can be difficult, but following some good steps to make change stick can help.

I recommend checking out the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath, looking at our examples of how we applied their principles, and making a plan for how you can do the same in your practice.

Change can be hard, but it’s always doable.

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