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Posted 11/10/2016 in Category 1

The Complete Guide to Creating a Memorable Dental Patient Experience

The Complete Guide to Creating a Memorable Dental Patient Experience

You first learn at dental school it is a fact of the profession that many individuals have a fear of dentists, as well as their tools and even their offices. The fear for some is so great they ignore clinical dental hygiene and even suffer through serious pain rather than seeking treatment. For others, there is simply a great discomfort over every aspect of the dental experience. Much of this fear and anxiety is a residual of the pain associated with dentistry just a generation ago. However, there are other factors, such as a concern over the loss of control that comes with sitting in a dental chair. Numerous studies have dealt with and evaluated these issues in depth, and even assigned it the names odontophobia, or dentophobia. The summary conclusion of most such research comes back to the importance of dentists understanding these Dental practices actually face the need to both make their services appealing to prospective and current patients as well as differentiating themselves for competitive practices. Creating the right patient experience is essential to practice survival growth in the increasingly competitive field of oral and dental care. underlying issues and addressing them proactively.


Optimizing The Patient Experience

Your are undoubtedly among the great majority of dental professionals who share the goal as of creating the best possible patient experience, one that is memorable in a positive way. If so, it is important to be aware that achieving that objective takes a great deal of attention to detail. Ensuring a comforting and pleasant environment for patients requires a comprehensive and holistic approach, covering all aspects of patient interaction and care. The full range of dental services and specialties, from general dentistry to orthodontia to cosmetic care, is affected by these patient fears and concerns. Accordingly, all dental practices must consider their management of the patient experience to include these discrete phases:

  • Finding a Dentist 

  • The environment encountered at the Dental Office

  • Handling the Treatment 

  • Ensuring proper Follow up

Each of these phases have a number of considerations, and it is the goal of this guide to address those details.

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Finding a Dentist – Word of Mouth on Steroids

For generations the field of dentistry was driven primarily by referrals and word of mouth. Dental practices were built over years by providing quality service to a growing base of satisfied patients. While such a process is still important, the effects of the Internet have transformed the overall importance of understanding the importance of your online presence. Statistics provided by Google indicate that as much as 50 percent of all new business for local service companies and professionals come from online searches. Moreover, the same research shows that more than 88 percent of consumers will review the reputation of a firm or practice in online reviews before making contact. Even more importantly, these numbers are increasing with the growth in use of smartphones and other mobile devices.

For the successful and growing dental practice, these statistics underline several vital realities. These include: Your practice must be easily found during an online search Patient reviews and comments are more important than ever Your practice must be actively involved in creating and maintaining a visible and effective online presence. The reality is that few practices have the internal staff or capabilities to fulfill these needs. While practice advertising used to be limited to yellow page ads and discrete advertisements, the online realities create an entirely new area of opportunities and challenges.


Booking the Appointment

In addition to your own internal efforts, there are a number of reputable online services that offer referrals to dentists, and even offer appointment booking services. For the successful and growing dental practice, these statistics underline several vital realities. These include: Your practice must be easily found during an online search Patient reviews and comments are more important than ever Your practice must be actively involved in creating and maintaining a visible and effective online presence. The reality is that few practices have the internal staff or capabilities to fulfill these needs. While practice advertising used to be limited to yellow page ads and discrete advertisements, the online realities create an entirely new area of opportunities and challenges. The Complete Guide to Creating a Memorable Dental Patient Experience Booking the Appointment Some of these combine a phone number option for prospective patients to call and find specific types of dentists. Once an individual chooses your practice, it is essential to make it easy for that newcomer to set a convenient appointment. Your website and social media platforms should indicate you have special programs for first-time patients. This will be determined by your own practice and business model, but you might make it clear that you offer:

  • Free Initial Consultation 

  • Reduced cost or free initial exam and/or X-rays 

  • Special or extra-convenient scheduling to welcome first-time Patients

Some practices now offer online scheduling. You can do this directly, or through the online referral service you may select. If you do not currently offer any online scheduling options, it is something to consider in the near-term. Based on the trends encouraged by airlines and hotels, experts in the field indicate a growing desire for individuals to book all types of reservations and appointments directly.


Creating a Welcoming Environment

One an appointment is made, it is important to follow up and both welcome the patient and remind them of the time of their appointment. Ideally, your practice will allow the patient to indicate their preference for communications, including phone, text and/or email. Once the new patient, or any patient for that matter, arrives at your offices, the entire process should be designed to make them feel welcomed and comfortable. Long gone are the days when it is acceptable to have a curt receptionist slide open a window, stick a clipboard out, tell the patient, “Fill this out and bring it back,” and then slam the window and retreat back to her little cubby hole. Likewise, those patients shouldn’t be left sitting in a cramped and drab waiting room with two-year-old and tattered magazines. Your patient demographics and type of practice will dictate the specifics of your office décor and design. For example, pediatric dental practices will offer a different environment than a cosmetic dentistry practice catering to an 18 to 45 age group. While there is no one design or ambiance for you to choose for your specific practice, you should ensure your approach includes:

  • Friendly, helpful and professional staff, especially at the front desk.

  • Personalized, convenient registration. This includes welcoming patients by name and minimizing the paperwork needed when they come in. 

  • Punctuality in following appointment times. If the inevitable emergency arises, ensure the patient is informed of any possible delays and allowed to reschedule if the delay is more than 15 minutes. 

  • A comfortable, welcoming waiting area. Again, depending on our practice, this may include a coffee and juice bar, TVs, current magazines, and even a Wi-Fi hot spot. 

  • Sharp, well-groomed appearance of the staff. While uniforms may or may not be the choice for an individual practice, the entire team should be attired in a professional manner. 

Many practices have added convenient recharging stations to their waiting rooms, and offer a range of useful videos and other materials for patients to view prior to their actually seeing the dentist. This material can include information about their specific treatment, such as a detailed cleaning or root canal, and follow-up guidance. These same materials are useful to provide online, so patients can find answers to many of their questions during the practice selection process.

While there is no one design or ambiance for you to choose for your specific practice, you should ensure your approach includes:

  • Friendly, helpful and professional staff, especially at the front desk.

  • Personalized, convenient registration. This includes welcoming patients by name and minimizing the paperwork needed when they come in. 

  • Punctuality in following appointment times. If the inevitable emergency arises, ensure the patient is informed of any possible delays and allowed to reschedule if the delay is more than 15 minutes. 

  • A comfortable, welcoming waiting area. Again, depending on our practice, this may include a coffee and juice bar, TVs, current magazines, and even a Wi-Fi hot spot. 

  • Sharp, well-groomed appearance of the staff. While uniforms may or may not be the choice for an individual practice, the entire team should be attired in a professional manner. 

Many practices have added convenient recharging stations to their waiting rooms, and offer a range of useful videos and other materials for patients to view prior to their actually seeing the dentist. This material can include information about their specific treatment, such as a detailed cleaning or root canal, and follow-up guidance. These same materials are useful to provide online, so patients can find answers to many of their questions during the practice selection process.

 


Delivering the Treatment – Setting the Stage

Of course, everything discussed thus far is prelude to actually getting a patient in the chair and ready for treatment. Whether or not your practice publishes a Patient Rights statement, it is generally recognized that patients should be provided certain standards of care. These include:

  • Providing a complete and through diagnosis of their dental care needs.

  • Engaging in a discussion about the available options for treatment, including costs and benefits or limitations of different options.

  • Gaining the proper informed consent for care that is prescribed and given.

  • Delivering the promised care and ensuring a continuity and completion of care.

While there are other considerations, the core issue here is that each patient should feel they are receiving the individualized and professional care they desire and deserve. While every dentist has a different personality and chairside manner, the positive memorable dental experience requires the time and effort to personally engage with a patient. This includes listening to the patient and providing responses that are personable and compassionate.

Often, a spouse, parent or guardian will also be involved in the treatment cycle, and they must receive the same level of engagement. In today’s healthcare environment, patients have many options for their dental care, including ignoring it. This means they will not readily accept being treated as part of an assembly line process that simply shuttles patients in and out of the chair, only partially aware of what is happening in their mouths. It is at this point that the dentist can provide assurance and comfort by explaining how the practice uses the latest in available technology and procedures. Patients understand how technology generally makes things better, and they should be reminded that everything in the practice is dedicated to providing the best care possible with little or no discomfort. It is worth noting that some of the items discussed in this paper seem to be at odds with the teaching of some practice consultants who speak to office efficiency, productivity, and the need to keep the patients moving through the office. However, nothing about creating a pleasant experience is inherently at odds with a highly productive and profitable practice. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. The practice that keeps patients fully attuned to their dental health with a sense of shared concern over its importance will keep their appointment books full of repeat clients and qualified referrals.

Each practice will take a different approach to the physical setting of the treatment room itself. It is best to have a number of options for patients to choose from, including:

  • Music of various types, including the option for headsets.

  • Visually appealing surroundings in the treatment room.

  • Different setting for the chair that meet the combined needs of easy access for the dentist and comfort for the patient.

  • Various types of sedation (especially if this is one of the practice’s promoted specialties).

As a final step, a member of the team should check with the patient and make sure they are comfortable prior to the dentist actually coming in.


Delivering the Treatment – Getting Down to Business

Once the patient is in the chair and fully apprised of what is going to be accomplished during the treatment, the dentist will be on stage. To the degree possible, the patient should be kept aware of what is going on at each major stage, and encouraged to make any discomfort readily known. While each procedure and treatment will follow their own protocols for communicating with patients who are not fully sedated, the overarching goal should be a continuing rapport with the patient from beginning to end. This certainly doesn’t mean a gabfest, but rather providing that sense of personal engagement with the patient. Delivering the Treatment – Getting Down to Business It is especially important to let the patient know if there is a problem or a necessary change in treatment. Many things can change during even a routine procedure, and the worst possible scenario is for a dentist to begin talking urgently with an assistant while ignoring an increasingly anxious or alarmed patient. While the dental team may deal with numerous such problems each day, it’s essential to remember this patient has probably never encountered such a situation before. Especially if they are only reluctantly in the chair, this is where communications are paramount. Another common situation may occur where a patient is left in the chair alone for extended periods of time for any number of reasons. Properly trained staff will constantly communicate with these patients and ensure them they are not forgotten, as well as explaining any unusually long delays.