What do your patients really think? Many dentists believe they know the answer to that question, but few could back up their beliefs with hard numbers, data or verifiable research from an objective source.
In actuality, most dentists are blissfully unaware of the realities of the patient experience outside of the confines of the dentist’s direct care. Consequently, they routinely make incorrect assumptions about their patients. The truth is that what people will say to your face and what they actually think and do can be very different.
In fact, it’s very rare for patients to voice concerns directly to the dentist. Why? Because in most cases, patients and like you and respect you—unless they are very upset—few will ever call problems to your attention. They really don’t want to bother you with a negative report on how rude and unfriendly your front desk staff is. They don’t want to trouble you with information concerning the apparent lack of consideration your financial coordinator displays when it comes to making sensitive financial arrangements at the front of a waiting room full of curious listeners.
But they’re doing you no favors. Many of your existing patients will continue to give you the benefit of the doubt until you personally do something that becomes the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Like any other strained long-term relationship that ultimately fails, the impetus is seldom a major infraction. Rather, it is the culmination of many smaller and seemingly insignificant breaches that frustrate and wear down the doctor/patient relationship.
Quietly, patients leave and pledge never to return because on top of the fact that Front Desk Patty is a royal pain who simply must be endured on the way to the dentist or hygienist, you, Doctor, didn’t listen to the patients as they thought you should. Or you didn’t appear to be interested in fully answering their questions on the procedures you recommended. Or you kept them waiting just too long on this particular day. Whatever the reason(s), you will likely never know exactly why they walk away from your practice. They’ll just disappear, leaving you to absorb the ongoing financial fallout. I highly recommend surveying existing patients, but I wouldn’t stop there. You need to understand how patients, particularly new patients, view your practice.
Time and again, dentists call me asking what they can do to get more new patients. It never occurs to them that new patients do call and may come in for an initial visit, but never return for a number of reasons.
There are no computer reports in your practice software to tell you how many prospective patients are driven away at the first phone call. There are no bells or whistles that sound when a new patient silently pledges never to return because it’s impossible to get a parking place within six blocks of your practice. There’s no little mouse to clue you into the frustration the patient experiences when the signage is so poor that they need a trial of breadcrumbs to figure out how to get to your front door. You are oblivious to the stains on the waiting room chairs, the worn and tattered magazines that are four months old and the patient restrooms that are just, well, gross. It simply doesn’t cross your mind that there is a problem, until you are experiencing it in your personal pocketbook.
Doctor, it’s time to pull your head out of the operatory and examine your practice from the patient’s perspective. Better yet, uncover exactly what it is like to be a new patient in your practice. Find out exactly what makes a patient walk away in disgust or happily return to your practice.
Next week, learn what’s happening to new patients in your practice and what to do about it.
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