If you’re the average dental office owner or practice manager, you focus intensely every day on patient retention, steady and growing revenue, and efficient cost control. But your focus just might be misplaced.
What if, by shifting your focus and implementing just a few simple changes, you could generate a steady stream of patient referrals, a dramatic reduction in delinquent accounts, and a loyal, productive staff who are thrilled to come to work each day?
One of our core philosophies at P&S Coaching has always been supporting and developing a patient-centered practice. We believe you are not just in the tooth business, you’re first and foremost in the people business.
That means the key focus of your practice isn’t teeth, it isn’t the doctor, it isn’t the team, it isn’t even the specialty, the décor, or the office location. The stars of your show are the people who count on you for care.
Why do we stress this approach? Simple. It works. We have found that patient-centered dental practices enjoy a stable, growing base of loyal patients who are excellent sources of referrals, and who willingly pay their bills on time. Patient-centered practices are measurably more profitable. And quite frankly, when everyone on the dental team is clear about the focus, a patient-centered practice is simply a much more fulfilling workplace.
Lay the Groundwork for a Patient-Centered Practice
- Create a powerful vision/mission statement for your practice, with patient focus at its heart. Share that mission statement with your employees, and display it somewhere your patients can see it. Set the example with your own behavior, and reward your team with incentives for embodying and acting on this vision.
- Ask your current patients, and your team, what you can do to improve the patient experience. You can conduct an anonymous survey using free online tools, or you can ask each patient to complete a review at the end of their visit. The information you get is useful, powerful feedback only if you make changes based on the input you receive.
- Do whatever it takes to include customer service, communication skills, and conflict resolution skills as part of your ongoing staff training regimen.
Make Your Patients Feel at Home
- Rather than just placing an impersonal clipboard, sign-in sheets, and insurance forms in the reception area, train your front office people to greet each patient warmly and personally by name.
- If the patient is new to the practice, or new to you, introduce yourself and describe your position in the practice.
- Show new patients around the office and introduce them to the staff.
- Ensure all staff wear name badges, prominently placed and easy to read.
Provide a Stress-Free, Comfortable Environment
- Amenities such as a beverage bar, a baby changing station, or free Wi-Fi can go a long way to make patients feel comfortable while they wait. (Stay away from offering cable news channels on the television, as current events might actually add to patient stress.)
- In the treatment chair, ask your patients what might make them feel more comfortable. Consider offering a blanket, personal ear buds, movie goggles, or a real-time camera so they can see the work in progress if they’d like. One dentist we know provided spongy, squeezable toys for apprehensive patients.
Create a Reputation for Exceptional Communication and Strong Customer Relationships
- Examine all of your communication processes, from the first phone greeting to the last “thanks and goodbye” at the end of the course of treatment. Script each key interaction (telephone etiquette, greetings, treatment plan and financial discussion, billing, collections, and other policies unique to your practice) in a polite, engaging way that reflects the spirit of your practice and the value of your patient relationships. Train your staff and role-play the scripts to make them your own.
- Respect your patient’s time. If you are running late, immediately tell the patient why and offer an estimate of how long the wait will be. Then follow the “10-Minute Rule” – updating the patient every 10 minutes. If the wait becomes excessive, offer to reschedule the appointment.
- Admit your mistakes and compensate patients for them. Compensation might consist of a complimentary product or service or discount from your practice, or a simple “Oops” card. If you make a mistake in scheduling or billing, or if you’ve run late, offer the patient a gift card to a local restaurant, coffee shop, bookstore, or movie theater to help smooth out the issue and maintain good will.
- If a patient misses an appointment, send a lighthearted email or text reminder with an invitation to call and reschedule. Humor, cartoons, or a captioned photo with a variation of, “Oh no! I forgot my appointment!” can often work wonders and help alleviate embarrassment.
- If a patient account should become delinquent, show compassion as the first step toward collection. Offer understanding and do what you can to help the patient create a payment plan that works for them.
Offer Thorough, Memorable Follow-up to Make Your Patients Feel Special
- Keep your patients and team connected by creating a Social Media presence for your practice. Update it regularly with photos, testimonials, and announcements about new products, equipment, or services. Add staff profiles, anniversaries or birthdays, notes about office parties or celebrations, cartoons or jokes to help create a sense of relationship.
- Create contests, drawings, or raffles for your patients. Monthly, quarterly, or yearly contests can make patients feel as though they are part of a caring, special community. We’ve heard of one high-end practice that actually gives away a car every year!
- Consider holding a special “open house” occasionally: for any holiday, anniversary, significant birthday, or addition of a new partner or team member. Invite your patients, provide refreshments, and socialize a bit.
- Explore supplemental clinical products and services to add to your practice. Teeth whitening, dental sleep medicine, advanced dental hygene products, and so forth can help your practice become “the place” for complete and comprehensive dentistry in your community.
Remember: you’re not in the tooth business; you’re in the people business. By going out of your way to make your patients feel special, you will not only enrich their lives, you and your staff might enjoy going to work every day, excited by the difference you’re making. Isn’t that one of the reasons you chose this career?
If your practice isn’t growing at 15% a year, if you aren’t getting many referrals or generating new patients, if you’re finding delinquencies and missed appointments increasing, it might be time to take a look at shifting your focus. Implementing just a few of these ideas can make a difference. Do what you can, one step at a time, every day. However, let’s be honest – it can be challenging.
If you’re ready to commit to transforming your practice and achieving breakthrough results in patient retention and referrals while increasing your revenue by 50% in the coming year, we’re here to help.