Every dentist in every office across the country has faced a difficult patient situation at one point, and while it may be awkward or even uncomfortable to face, it falls on the dentist – as the top clinician, the business owner and the CEO of the practice – to try and resolve the situation as peacefully and positively as possible.
When was the last time you were faced with a disgruntled patient? Last week? Last month? Every dentist in every office across the country has faced a difficult patient situation at one point, and while it may be awkward or even uncomfortable to face, it falls on the dentist – as the top clinician, the business owner and the CEO of the practice – to try and resolve the situation as peacefully and positively as possible.
The good news is this: according to a 2016 study 96 percent of patient complaints result from customer-service issues rather than from clinical error1. Complaints are often subjective, not objective, and if a patient doesn’t have an existing relationship with the dentist and his or her team, it’s more likely that distrust lies at the heart of the matter, not any major clinical misstep.
While there is no way to completely avoid disgruntled patients, there are steps dentists can take to help maintain a positive, patient-centric practice atmosphere.
Surprise and delight
While most patients don’t look forward to going to the dentist, it’s certainly possible to change their perceptions, and here’s how: exceed their expectations at every opportunity. Keep appointments running on time. Utilize technology both in the chair and at the front desk. Offer affordable payment options. Maintain a clean office and a friendly staff.
Enhancing each patient’s experience builds a relationship based on respect, trust and loyalty, so that if something should happen to go wrong one time, the patient will know that the instance is the exception, not the norm, making them all the more likely to forgive the situation.
Inform before you perform
Patients are nervous enough to walk through the front door of the practice and even more so when undergoing extensive treatment. Consider how they then feel if they hear from another dentist the work was unnecessary, or when their insurance denies coverage? Unfortunately, situations like these happen often and that’s why it’s important to build that doctor-patient relationship at every opportunity, including financial discussions.
Take patients into a separate private room to discuss delicate money matters. Outline the costs. Offer alternatives to insurance. And listen to what the patients has to say to help alleviate concerns and ensure a smooth course of care both pre- and post-treatment.
Surround yourself with the right people
One of the major components of running a patient-centric practice is to hire the right staff, and having strong leadership skills are crucial in helping dentists determine whether the right or wrong people are on the team, and how to act accordingly for the overall health of the practice.
Dentists are skilled clinicians, but not all dentists are skilled communicators – and that’s okay. Hire the right people to help fill in those gaps. Look for hygienists who are charismatic as well as efficient. Hire front desk staff who exude a welcoming, friendly vibe. The office manager and financial coordinator need to be strong and authoritative without being confrontational.
Clinical skills can be learned; personality traits are inherent. Make sure every one on the team has the skills and personality to build relationships, answer questions and address concerns to help diffuse – or avoid – any potential negative situations.
Continue to page two to learn how to deal with dissatisfied patients...
Dealing with dissatisfied patients in today’s digital age
The reality is that even dentists who work hard at building long-term patient relationships come across an unhappy patient every now and then. It’s a fact of life, unfortunately, that you can’t please everybody all of the time. So what’s a dental office to do when faced with an unhappy customer?
Most critically, if it’s a complaint about a clinical issue, seek advice immediately from your business attorney and insurance carrier. Do not do anything else before speaking with counsel.
However, the more common scenario is a customer service-type complaint. First, try to identify the patient. Of course, if the patient complains in person, this isn’t hard to do, and actually, can end up being the best scenario. Why? The patient is giving the dentist an opportunity to solve the problem. If the dentist reacts proactively to remedy the situation, this can actually foster a stronger sense of loyalty in a patient.
Most of the time, patients don’t complain in person, so identifying them isn’t so easily accomplished. It gets even harder when the complaint is online. Whether through social media or by posting a negative review, the patient is turning what used to be a one-on-one conversation into a one-to-many scenario, and it can be tricky to handle successfully. Here are three best practices for handing a negative online review:
No matter what, always respond positively
Whether the patient is known to the dental team or not, respond to the criticism with a smile. Simply apologize up front for the misunderstanding and offer to talk offline to resolve the situation. And if it’s not possible to identify the patient, don’t worry. Simply respond to the comment (again, with a smile) and take the extra step of giving a team member’s name to ask for and a direct contact number to further demonstrate a sincere commitment to resolving the problem.
Respond publicly, resolve privately
Always respond publicly and then take the conversation offline. Even if the disgruntled patient is in the wrong, it will never pay off to dismantle his or her argument point by point, or to disparage the patient in front of others. Maintain a professional manner and always take the high road, no matter how difficult that may be. It’s hard to not take a negative review personally, but it is far more damaging to trade online jabs with an unhappy patient for the whole world to see.
Resolve to find the good, even when it’s bad
Graciously responding to public criticism is good for the patient who complained, but it’s most beneficial for other patients to see. It shows that you are a compassionate human being and responsible business owner in addition to being a great clinician, and it gives you the chance to show publicly how you are willing to work with your patients to right even a perceived wrong. Hearing negative feedback can feel embarrassing, even gut wrenching, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. Shift your mindset from viewing it as a mistake to an opportunity and turn a negative online review into a very positive outcome.