Dental treatment makes many patients anxious. If a dentist is friendly, communicative, and ultimately makes the patient comfortable in the chair, he or she might be a retained patient for years to come. Therefore, it is imperative to make a solid first impression with each new patient. Patients who are happy with a dentist’s services and how they are provided care can influence referrals and drive the productivity and growth of the practice.
Making patients comfortable is an important skill for a new dentist to master. Draft a script for new patient phone calls, i.e., to set expectations for his or her office visit, and then implement this system for each potential patient in your practice. It may be advantageous to tailor your message according to the type of patient on which you’re calling. Different types of patients walk into your office every day. He or she may be a new patient, a referred patient seeking the right practice, or an existing patient who is experienced with the practice staff and culture. Gaining the trust of these different types of dental consumers is the difference between a potential patient being retained, or leaving for another practice.
Courtesy of Dr. Cody Mugleston, practice owner in Henderson, NV, and UNLV School of Dentistry, ’11, a recent THE NEXTDDS virtual training event discusses topics such as the importance of mentorship, how to develop leadership skills, and building relationships with your patients. Below are several key points outlined in the presentation.
Focus on Patients, Strive for Personal Connections
A patient-centric practice is all about building confidence and developing the diagnostic and chairside skills to do what’s best for each patient. Know patients’ names and dress the part. Introduce yourself to new patients and welcome them into the practice personally. Ask questions and actively listen. Sometimes, patients just need to vent their frustrations, and a dentist’s shoulder is there to cry on. Giving patients extra time to share their thoughts could translate into more referrals. Patients will become more aware of your emotional intelligence and capacity for understanding.
Get to know patients on a personal level. In his patient charts, Dr. Cody Mugleston makes personal notes about each patient: how many children they have, what they do for a living, where they live, how they heard about the practice, and what their hobbies are. As other members of his team interact with the patient, more notes are added, and conversations become more natural and friendly. Engaging in this way and being more attentive towards the patient can improve his or her trust with the dentist and staff and establish deeper relationships.
Establishing Clear Communication
A patient-centered practice differentiates between wants and needs, encourages patient questions about the diagnosis, and works to address patient fears, concerns, cost, and follow-through. Patients can become apprehensive upon first arriving at a practice. They may be anxious about treatment and not open up about their deeper oral health issues, instead merely sharing what they think needs to be said. Some dentists work at this level, and never get past this basic connection.
Probing beyond this initial hesitation means patients can begin to communicate effectively on their concerns and expectations for their care. Beyond this, the doctor-patient relationship goes into a stage of desires and deeper subconscious feelings (e.g., improving way of life, having an aesthetic smile, etc.). The key is to allow patients to open up and be comfortable to reach this level of the relationship, and meet them at their deepest concerns. What are they most worried about, or hope to change during treatment? Is the chief complaint localized to a specific tooth, or does it involve a more comprehensive approach like an occlusal issue? If the end goal of treatment is positively established and met with a warm rapport, the money, time, and effort will be less of a concern for the patient.
The new patient examination and consultation are incredibly important in this area, and allow both dentist and patient to collaborate on a desired outcome. In Dr. Mugleston’s experience, patients are more likely to accept treatment when they are invested in the proposed outcome. It is also valuable to communicate regularly with the patient to ensure treatment is proceeding according to plan and to confirm his or her satisfaction with the services provided by the practice.
Planning to lead a patient-centric practice means dentists, associates, lab technicians, and office staff need to communicate together and focus on achieving the utmost service to patients. Keeping a patient’s trust is an extension of this focus. When patients trust their professionals, especially for those that might have a clear dental phobia, they can have a positive overall experience and may even develop a personal loyalty to their practice of choice. As future dentists, dental students should not lose sight of what makes the practice grow and flourish—the patient’s perspective.