Do You Take Your ‘Good’ Patients for Granted?
It’s a funny thing about “good” patients. They don’t require a lot. They show up for their appointments. They pay their bills. They are pleasant to have in the practice. Then one day, some of them just disappear without a word. What happened?
Consider the situation that “Dr. Strawman” encountered. He long believed that he had some of the most loyal and dedicated patients a dentist could ask for - many had been with him for over 20 years. But something was off. Initially, he dismissed it as a couple of isolated incidents, until it became clear that he was watching a pattern unfold. As he shared the story with me, he was incredulous. “How does a patient come to the same dentist for two decades and not know that I can and regularly do perform virtually every type of cosmetic dentistry there is?” he said.
He explained that he had “a handful” of patients just in the last 12 months who had returned to the practice for their hygiene appointments. Upon examining them, it was clear that extensive dental work had been done elsewhere - crowns, veneers, implants, etc. Finally, after the situation presented itself a couple of times, he started asking the patients a few questions about why they had the work done elsewhere. The answers were variations of the same theme: “Well, I didn’t know you did this, Dr. Strawman. And you are always so busy when I come in for my hygiene appointments, I didn’t want to bother you with questions.”
We see it repeatedly among the dental teams that participate in our Treatment Acceptance Training Program; offices assume that their “regular” patients know what they have to offer. The dental team thinks they know what their patients want, but they never get past the small talk to have a real conversation about the concerns and life situations that influence patients’ treatment desires and decisions. Many dental teams are so focused on the fundamentals of treatment presentation, they forget that patients base their acceptance of those recommendations on multiple factors. And those factors change through the years.
Overall, dental teams tend to be very good about asking questions and learning more about new patients, but they never raise the questions again. Patient priorities and objectives change over time, based on what is happening in their lives. At least every 18-24 months, treat your existing patients like new patients. Sit down and have a real conversation with them that goes well beyond “Have you had any changes to your medical history?”
Do this for what I call the “Mrs. Wilsons” in your practice. These are the “good” patients who have quietly thought about making changes to their smiles for many years - fixing crooked teeth, whitening, veneers, composite fillings, etc. Their children are grown, so they can focus on themselves. They may be newly divorced or widowed. They may finally be ready to change something in their appearance that they don’t like. Their lives have changed and so have their priorities. But they are hesitant to raise the issue unless their dentist does.
Make these conversations deliberate - in other words, make them part of a regularly scheduled appointment at least every two years. Yes, it may require a few more minutes of your time. But doing so enables you to plant seeds that get patients thinking about options, educating them about what your practice has to offer and helping them to make truly informed decisions based on their needs, wants, and priorities.
For example, a patient with large MOD silver fillings may indicate that she wants a “movie star” smile and is interested in veneers for her front teeth. But she might not have ever noticed the blackness that appears on the sides of her teeth and in between when she smiles. Based on the patient’s expressed desire to have a beautiful smile, she may be far more interested in considering additional procedures over time.
Ultimately, it’s up to the doctor and dental team to better educate their “good” patients about how they can achieve their oral health desires and priorities. Don’t assume patients know what you have to offer. If the practice doesn’t initiate these conversations with patients, too many opportunities will never be realized.
For more information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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