ADA's 2016 Conference Offers Tips on Practice Management


The ADA provides free resources to its members to help dentists better manage their practices.

The American Dental Association (ADA) provides educational modules to help dentists with specific practice management topics. One of the courses offered is titled “Managing Patients,” which was reviewed on October 20 at the ADA’s 2016 meeting in Denver, CO by Dr. Jean Creasey, DDS, Dr. Diane Metrick, DDS, and Cynthia Kluck-Nygren of the ADA. The module is available free online to ADA members and can be found on the ADA website. Below is a summary of the main points from the module.

Patient intake

The first opportunity to have a positive impact on a patient is over the phone, the presenters said. The practice employee taking the call must be the warm and welcoming. Collecting basic information about the patient’s medical and dental history before the visit will help make the process seamless. If the office has requirements for first-time appointments, relay those ahead of time so that there are no surprises when patients arrive.

Meeting the doctor

It is important that the doctor be relaxed and not rush when first meeting the patient, the presenters advised. The dentist, having reviewed the medical chart prior to the appointment, can discuss any questions or concerns with the patient. He or she must treat the patient as an equal. The doctor must take the patient step-by-step and present information in small pieces. It is imperative that he or she always be honest and up front, the presenters said. For example, if the doctor is running behind schedule, and the appointment will be delayed, the doctor must let the patient know. Transparency is key to creating a trusting relationship. If the dentist is going to recommend particular treatment, explain what is recommended and why. He or she must make sure the patient understands how the procedures will be beneficial, according to the presenters. Dentists must be transparent about the expected financial costs as well as the time required for each option presented. Invite questions from the patient and respect their decision to research the options presented and discuss with others.

Connecting with the patient

When speaking with the patient, the presenters said the dentist should use open-ended questions, avoiding questions with yes or no answers. This allows for the patient to explain in detail. Equally important is active listening. Using positive body language and engaging the patient creates a feeling of trust. Finally, it is important for the doctor to minimize technical terms the patient may not comprehend.

Common patient scenarios

Recare/confirming appointments

It is important for a dental practice to develop a system for recare/confirming future appointments, the presenters suggested. Having the patient pre-appoint at the end of current treatment is one option. Using reminder phone calls and/or text messages may also prove useful. Ask patients for their confirmation preference, they advised.


Cancellations inevitably occur. However, they can be mitigated by communicating expectations to the patient, the presenters said. Displaying the office appointment policy and including the policy in the new patient packet will set expectations and explain consequences of a cancellation. A dental practice can employ follow-up phone calls, text messages, or perhaps emails to help decrease cancellations, the presenters advised. Many patients think their mouths are healthy and many don’t value their appointment. It is important to stress the educational component as to why oral health care is beneficial. Always remember to provide the ADA Patient Bill of Rights and Responsibilities to all patients.


If the practice is having trouble retaining a patient, it is best to reach out directly to the patient. Be proactive. Whoever knows the patient best in the practice can be the person to open up dialogue. It is important to act out of an authentic concern for their oral health and to nurture the relationship, the presenters said.


Complaints typically result from a breakdown in communication. Usually the outcome is different than the expectation of the patient. When the patient has questions, the presenters said, being willing and open to discussion is key to maintaining a trusting relationship.

Patient dismissal

If a patient is to be dismissed from a practice, it is important to not place blame or fault on anyone, the presenters cautioned. The dentist must remain cordial and professional, always showing compassion and ending the relationship on a neutral level. A patient should always be respected and valued. Remember that adequate notice of dismissal must be given to a patient per state laws or regulations, and that documentation is vital.

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