Academy of Dental Management Consultants Corner: 4 ways you can create and maintain patient service excellence

May 19, 2014

Superior patient service is not only the result of excellent clinical care in the dental practice. It also includes every interaction the patient has had or will have with every individual in the practice. Poor patient service is often the result of busy schedules, stress, and frustrations, coupled with systems that are not designed to be efficient or effective.

Here are four ways to create and maintain patient service excellence...

1. Patients are tuned into your attitude. The labored sigh, the annoyed stare, the rolling eyes…those may be your “quiet” way of venting today’s frustrations, but they scream poor attitude and disrespect to your patient. If your expression, your tone, your approach, even your appearance, sends the message that you really do not care, then that is precisely what the patients hear … loud and clear. It’s important to discuss any frustrations within the practice at a staff meeting, where you can problem-solve together and develop solutions to improve the systems to support day-to-day success rather than increasing the stress for the team and doctor.

2. Patients expect you to have immediate answers to their basic questions. Track the common questions that patients ask and, at your staff meetings, discuss these common questions and develop the practice’s standard answers. Remember that you want to include responses that answer the underlying question of, “What’s in it for me to do what you are asking?” For example: Do I need to do this now or can it wait until January when my insurance contract renews? This question will begin cropping up as soon as half the year is almost over. How will you respond? This system of reviewing the common questions and developing the appropriate answers is a good thing to keep on your permanent agenda. Anything that you can work on consistently such as patient communications will greatly benefit the practice, team, and patients.

3. A patient should never be ignored when he or she comes to the counter. Acknowledge his or her presence immediately. Whether you are engaged in a conversation with someone else or on the telephone, it takes five seconds to look over, acknowledge patients, and show them that you will be right with them. If you pretend they are not there, you are in essence telling your patients that they are bothering you and you don’t have the time to take care of them. If this is happening frequently in the business office, I recommend you review the responsibility list of your patient greeter. Are there too many tasks that take time and focus to accomplish, plus they are expected to answer all incoming calls and greet the patients as if they were a guest in their home? Being understaffed can decrease the business team’s ability to greet the patients, have a welcoming conversation, check them in, and do all of their other duties.

4. A system that can be improved universally in practices is listening. Listening is a skill that must be worked on in order to master. When the patient talks, you listen. Even though you think you know exactly where the patient is going, avoid that uncontrollable urge to blurt out your response before the patient can even finish a sentence. Doing so effectively shuts the patient down. Listen first, talk later. When you ask a question, write down the patient’s response and share it with the team so they are aware of the patient’s concerns. Patients get aggravated when they are asked the same question over and over by different team members. They soon wonder if anyone is really listening. Unfortunately, the last person to ask the question is usually the doctor and this places him or her in a negative zone with the patient from the start. The patients benefit from being listened to, and they see that their unique needs, fears, concerns, and wants are truly heard. By listening to your patients, you will learn how they feel about your service, what they want and need, and then you will be better able to meet those needs. This creates a great win-win situation where the patient has the necessary or desired treatment completed and where the practice wins through increased productivity.

Every day, for every patient, show compassion, understanding, and a positive and helpful demeanor. Both you and the patient will be very glad you did, and the practice will benefit significantly from your efforts.

Editor's Note: For more information on the Academy of Dental Management Consultants, please click here.