5 ways to impress your dental patients (from me, your patient)

April 23, 2015

When I moved to New York, I was still on the insurance plan of my company, which was headquartered in Oklahoma. What was a great benefits package in Oklahoma was slim pickins in New York City, and I was forced to choose between two or three dentists within all five boroughs who would accept my insurance. Naturally, I chose the one closest to me (after checking his Yelp reviews, of course).

When I moved to New York, I was still on the insurance plan of my company, which was headquartered in Oklahoma. What was a great benefits package in Oklahoma was slim pickins in New York City, and I was forced to choose between two or three dentists within all five boroughs who would accept my insurance. Naturally, I chose the one closest to me (after checking his Yelp reviews, of course).

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I walked into the smallest dental office I’d ever seen. The walls were wood paneled and the carpet really needed to be replaced, but the office manager was friendly as could be, the hygienist was kind and gentle, and the doctor took X-rays and a mold of my mouth (for a nightguard that I requested) without trying to sell me a pricey procedure that would take me months to pay off.

I compared that experience to the one in Oklahoma, six months before, in which I filled out my new patient forms on an iPad and stumbled over the question, “What’s one thing you’d like to change about your smile?”

Uh, well, my teeth are a little crooked after not wearing a retainer consistently and I’ve had some kind of stain on my bottom tooth since I was a child, but other than that, I think it’s ok.

Wrong. The dentist took a picture of my smile as it was and then brought me his predicted “after shot” of what he could do to give me a celebrity smile. It would take some orthodontia and a couple thousand dollars. When I told him I earned $10 an hour as an intern, he didn’t take the hint. He was all about that upsell, but I just wanted my teeth cleaned and an oral cancer screening.

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I didn’t care about the iPad, watching TV from the exam chair, or the garden view in the exam room. He wasn’t listening to me. I would take uncomfortable film in my mouth and wood-paneled walls over office esthetics and pricey gadgets any day, as long as I didn’t feel like I was walking into a car dealership every time I got my teeth cleaned.

So let’s say you are a great dentist with adequate people skills and you still want to know how to impress your patients. I have five tips:

1. Make your waiting room pleasant
The first thing a new patient judges about your office is the waiting room. They’re going to make assumptions about your competency and cleanliness by the state of that front room, so make sure that it’s welcoming, clean, and comfortable. Most people are still afraid of the dentist and you want to try to help with their anxiety as soon as you can.

2. Have a great front desk
The first people your patients talk to are the ones behind that front desk. I’ve decided not to go to a dentist based off of how I was treated on the phone and how easy or not easy it was to make an appointment. There are plenty of dentists to choose from, and I won’t waste my time if every aspect of his or her office – making an appointment, dealing with insurance and payments, and waiting for my exam – isn’t a pleasant experience. All you have to do is look at reviews for dentists’ offices on Yelp to see that I’m not the only one.

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3. Offer patients the chance to “freshen up”
You know we all floss the night before and brush really hard the morning of our dentist appointment because we think you won’t notice our less than perfect oral hygiene habits … so why not give us one last chance to try to undo the damage of the last six months before you see it? I always appreciate when a dental office has toothbrushes and mouthwash in the bathroom, even though I know you see right through my last-minute efforts. It makes me feel a little better, though, and that’s what’s really important, right?

4. Have the latest technology
Yes, I’ll sit through biting those uncomfortable pieces of plastic while you take pictures of my teeth if I like you, but why make me go through it? You know developing film takes extra time, effort, and space, and with digital radiography, there’s just no need. There’s no better way to show your patients that you keep up with advancements in dentistry (and, therefore, have your patients’ best interests in mind) than by having the latest technology. No, you don’t have to buy a new handpiece every time one comes out (how would I know?), but make sure you aren’t putting off a vintage vibe, if you know what I mean.

Learning opportunity: Check out this evidence-based e-book on digital radiography

5. Stop upselling and focus on patient education instead
Yes, I know, you’re running a business too, but when you’re trying to sell me expensive cosmetic procedures to bring the look of my teeth up from a solid B to an A+, I’m just not into it. Tell me why it’s important for my overall health to have something done, and I’ll listen. Listen to me complain about pain in my jaw and frequent headaches and you can absolutely tell me about TMJ and suggest a mouthguard. But also recognize that if I tell you I don’t have money to spend on extras, I don’t have money to spend on extras. If you don’t respect your patient’s limits, they’ll find a dentist who does.