10 things your patients are saying behind your back

December 10, 2013

Ever wonder what your patients say about you after they leave your dental practice?  Read on to find out the most common patient complaints.

Patients are going to talk. After they leave your practice, they’re going to tell family and friends about the experience they had-whether it’s good or bad. 

You might be surprised to learn what many patients talk about when you’re not around, from judgments about how you handle your time to complaints about that awful team member you hired. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common things patients say behind your back, and how you can change those comments from positive to negative.

1. “My dentist never starts or ends my appointment on time.”

This is a big one. Your patients are busy people, and no one wants to spend a lot of time in the reception area waiting for their appointment to begin.

Yes, dental offices get behind but there are steps you can take to make sure this doesn’t happen on a daily basis at your practice, said Kathleen O’Donnell, Executive VP of Coaching for Jameson Management. Make sure you time your procedures accurately and never double book.  Be smart about scheduling patients, or you may lose some to the dentist down the street who doesn’t make their patients wait.

And don’t think you can squeeze in an emergency patient and your other patients won’t notice-if you have a full schedule this will throw off your day and leave your other patients wondering where you are.

2. “My dentist is always in a hurry.”

Yes, you have a busy practice and a lot of patients to see, but that doesn’t mean you should rush in and out of every operatory without spending time getting to know your patients and their dental goals, said Penny Reed Limoli of Limoli and Associates. Take the time to educate your patients on their condition and treatment options and answer any questions they may have. Let them know you do have time for them and want to help them reach optimal oral health.

“A lot of patients say their dentist seems like he’s in a rush and doesn’t spend much time with them,” Reed Limoli said. “What I really think they’re saying is when the dentist is in the room he’s not really interacting with them. He just came in and said ‘How are you doing? OK, now open up.’ Be sure that you’re connecting with patients when you’re in the room.”

3. “Wow, my dentist’s fees are so high.” 

If patients don’t understand the value of the care they’re receiving, then they’re likely going to think your fees are too high. Take the time to educate your patients about the value of optimal oral health, and how not going forward with treatment may cost them more money down the road.

If a patient questions your fees or complains that prices always seem to be going up, don’t get defensive, O’Donnell said. Instead, take the opportunity to educate the patient. Let the patient know you want to provide the best care for your patients and are dedicated to providing outstanding services.

And remember, if you truly are providing that outstanding service, your patients are less likely to question how much they pay for it.

“When the doctor or doctors in a practice perform excellent clinical dentistry and have outstanding customer service, then patients don’t question their fees,” O’Donnell said. “They will feel it’s a fair price for the wonderful experience they had.”

4. “He never told me treatment would cost that much.”

Patients never should be surprised with how much treatment cost. They should know up front exactly what to expect when it comes time to pay the bills, yet this is an all-too-common complaint that leaves patients angry and confused.

This one is easy to avoid. Establish a protocol in your practice that requires you to have a written financial agreement before you start any procedure, O’Donnell said. That way, patients know exactly what to expect before they even agree to treatment.

5. “My dentist has the worst staff!”

This is a touchy one but one you really need to handle right away if it becomes a problem in your dental practice. You have to make sure your team members offer friendly service to your patients, and that they’re knowledgeable enough to answer questions patients may not feel comfortable asking you.

If a patient truly doesn’t like a team member for whatever reason, chances are that patient is going to seek their dental treatment elsewhere. Send out a patient survey to give patients the opportunity to tell you what they like and what they don’t like about your practice, O’Donnell said.

Take their comments and concerns seriously, and talk with any team members about issues that come up in the survey. You want patients to feel comfortable at your practice, and your team plays a large role in making that happen.

6. “I don’t understand why I need a new crown.”

This all comes back to patient education. Just because a patient tells you he understands why he needs the recommended treatment doesn’t mean he really does.

When you’re talking to patients about treatment options, make sure the financial coordinator is with you, or maybe a hygienist or dental assistant depending on the situation. That way you have another set of eyes and ears watching the patient for body language, O’Donnell said. When the doctor leaves the room, the team member can answer any questions the patient may not feel comfortable asking you.

It’s also a good idea to ask patients to tell you what they understand about the treatment options you’re proposing, O’Donnell said. Let the patient know you want to make sure he understands the importance of the treatment before he leaves the office, and that you and your team members are happy to answer any questions to help make that happen. Talk with the patient about his goals and show him how the treatment you’re recommending aligns with those goals.

“Too often dentists focus too much on the whole treatment acceptance process or the case acceptance process,” O’Donnell said. “We want to make sure not just the doctor but the entire team is focused on how we can best educate our patients.”

7. “My dentist never listens to me.”

Before you can talk to a patient about treatment options, you have to know what his goals are and you have to be flexible. Maybe your patient doesn’t really want a crown right now, or simply isn’t interested in any of the cosmetic fixes you keep talking about. Don’t argue with that patient, Reed Limoli said. Find out what his goals are and find a way you can meet those goals without suggesting treatment he simply doesn’t want.

8. “All my dentist cares about is money.”  

Adding new technology to your practice is great, but if your patients don’t see the value in that technology, they may think all you care about is fancy gadgets and what they can do for your bottom line-especially if you’ve recently raised your fees, Reed Limoli said.

Again, this all comes back to patient education. Educate your patients about any new technologies you add to your office, and make sure your team members do the same. If they see the value in new technology, they won’t question your motives for adding expensive equipment to your practice.

9. “My dentist has a horrible temper.”

This is not a reputation you want to have in your community. Sure, we all get angry sometimes but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to take it out on a patient or a team member.

The next time a late patient makes you angry, resist the urge to let that patient know about it, Reed Limoli said. Instead take the opportunity to remind the patient how important it is to keep their appointments and to arrive on time, and have your office manager talk to them about scheduling a time that works best for their schedule. Address the issue, whatever it is, rather than blowing up and making your patients and your team members uncomfortable.

10. “My dentist flirted with me!”

You want to take the time to get to know your patients, but you also don’t want to take it too far. You may think you’re just being friendly, but your patient may see it as inappropriate flirting, Reed Limoli said.

When chatting with patients, don’t get too personal. Don’t ask who they’re dating or what they’re doing Friday night. Keep any jokes you tell clean, and avoid bringing up politics. You don’t want to offend your patients; that’s a good way to ensure they end up at the practice down the street.

You want them to talk

Patients are the lifeblood of your practice. Without them, there is no practice. You have to make sure they’re happy when they leave your practice, and ready to tell their family and friends about the great experience they had. If your patients are talking behind your back, that’s not necessarily a bad thing-you just want to make sure they’re focusing on the positives. If they are, you not only have patients who are sure to remain loyal, but patients who will refer new patients, and that can only mean good things for your practice.