Our New Patient Came from Your Office!
Every office welcomes new patients! We are happy when a new individual or family finds their way to our practice, and typically try to discover how they found us. Most patients had a regular dentist before they decided to make a change. Why did they decide to leave their previous dentist? How did they pick us? What were the problems they encountered at their former practice? What can we do to make sure they stay happy with us?
“Janette” is a married mom of two little girls. She found her way to our practice by way of a friend who told her she would get good care with our dentist. She has been coming to the office for over a year, but until today, had her two little girls at another practice. After her professional cleaning appointment this afternoon, she told me that she wanted to set up appointments for the girls right away. “I’m not happy with the girls’ dentist. He is very preoccupied and I don’t think he really listens to me when I tell him about my concerns for the kids. I like his hygienist, but I am tired of his attitude.”
Do you ever act as if you are “too busy” for your patients? All of us know how stressful a jam-packed schedule can be, but we owe it to our patients to take a breath and focus on them during the time we are with them. Rushing into the treatment room, hurriedly completing the exam and then rushing out is not the way to keep patients satisfied. Sometimes dentists can act as if they are annoyed to be interrupted for recalls. This is a mistake for all involved. A sense of tension is conveyed by the hygienist, who dreads having to alert the dentist of the need for an exam, and patients pick up on this. If the dentist then acts in an abrupt fashion because he or she wants to return to the other room, patients can feel slighted. Moms in particular don’t like to feel rushed when it comes to their children. Giving them our complete attention is vital to retaining the family as patients.
Another common patient complaint involves not the dentist, but the staff. Patients will tell us that they like their former dentist, but don’t like having to deal with an unpleasant front-office person. “She always acts as if she’s doing me a favor by answering the phone,” one patient told us. “I got tired of trying to be friendly and receiving frowns in return,” said another. “Whenever I had a question about my insurance she seemed to be very exasperated that I didn’t simply know the answer myself,” one gentleman expressed. An unpleasant front desk staffer can really hurt a practice. This is the first person patients talk to and/or see when they come to the office. Friendly and polite should be the watchwords!
Another patient told us about a less than courteous assistant. “She puts the chair practically upside down, and even when the dentist is finished she leaves me in that position. She knows that it is hard for me to breathe with my head so low. I realize that the dentist has to see, but why does she leave me like that, and then leave the room when he is done?!” Assistants should know that they are responsible for much of a patient’s comfort. It needs to be a priority. Leaving a patient alone in an uncomfortable position is just not acceptable.
Hygienists also get their share of complaints. The two most common issues appear to be not taking enough time with the “cleaning” and being too rough. “My hygienist hurts me! She doesn’t seem to care that the ultrasonic is painful and insists on using it even though I have asked her not to.” “My cleanings used to take about 45 minutes. Now she spends barely 20 minutes. I don’t think that I am getting a thorough job.” Cultivating a gentle touch is vital in dental hygiene. Turning down the ultrasonic, watching instrument position and pressure, and lessoning sensitivity by spraying water in the mouth and letting the patient “swish” before using the suction are a few ways to make a prophy more comfortable. Topical anesthetics can also help. Some patients cannot tolerate an ultrasonic at all. Using hand instruments exclusively for these patients can go a long way in gaining patient good will.
Abbreviated hygiene appointments can be problematic. Appointments need to be long enough to accomplish a general assessment, perio assessment, radiographs, identification of possible restorative needs, intra-oral photographs, and the actual prophy. Although patients may be forced into a “short-time appointment” schedule, making the day’s production look better, patients can tell if there is little or no time for simple courtesies. If they feel shortchanged during their cleanings, they will leave the practice. It is also not beneficial to the office as a whole. If restorative treatment is not identified and later reinforced by the dentist during a prophy appointment, today’s hygiene production may look good, but the office total monthly production will not be what is desired.
Taking care of patients involves much more than simply being a good technician. Human needs and emotions are front and center when it comes to dental treatment. To keep our patients happy we need to remember this - we don’t want them to become new patients at someone else’s office!
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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