Emergency patients: Make them feel welcome or they won't come back

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

Dental emergencies can be pretty stressful—especially when the patients involved don’t have a dental home. These patients, who are likely in a lot of pain, start calling practices in a panic searching for someone, anyone, who can fit them in.

Even when they find a practice that can, it’s usually pretty clear their emergency is an inconvenience to the dentist’s schedule. They don’t exactly feel welcome, but they take the appointment anyway. They just never make another one.

This is a pretty common scenario. Emergency patients come in once then disappear—but it doesn’t have to be that way. These patients actually represent a great opportunity for dentists to grow their practices. If they receive exceptional care, excellent customer service and a bit of education during their visit, they’re going to feel a connection to the practice, and that makes them more likely to schedule an appointment before they leave.

So why are so many of these patients never heard from again? Even though the doctor gets them out of pain, there isn’t much time spent trying to build a rapport or educating them about the services the practice offers. They feel like they’re an inconvenience, not a valued patient. I’m here to help you change that. With these tips, you can start to make emergency patients feel more welcome in your practice—and that will help turn these one-timers into loyal patients who accept treatment and refer.

Develop a well-thought-out script. You want patients to feel at ease visiting your practice, and that starts with the initial phone call. Often, team members see calls from emergency patients as a disruption, and that comes across during the conversation. They might sigh or let these patients know squeezing them in is a bit of a nuisance. Yes, patients accept the appointment anyway, but that’s because they’re desperate and have nowhere else to turn. When they’re ready to start scheduling routine visits, they’ll remember that initial interaction and opt to look for another office instead of calling yours.

I suggest you develop a script that team members can follow every time an emergency patient calls. That way, they’ll know exactly what to say to help alleviate some of the stress these patients are feeling. The goal should be to make them feel comfortable and to assure them the doctor will help get them out of pain. Team members should have a caring tone as they gather the necessary information. Patients will feel much better about the practice when they hang up the phone, making them more likely to come back for non-emergency dental care.

Provide education. Typically, dentists want to get emergency patients out of the chair as quickly as possible. They know these patients likely won’t come back, after all, and because they’re fitting them in, they don’t have a lot of time to spend chairside.

My advice? Make the time. Talk to these patients about their condition and the importance of routine dental care. Let them know how they can avoid emergency situations in the future, and how your practice can help get them to optimal health. Not only will they leave your office feeling better, they’ll understand what you do and why they should make taking care of their oral health a priority. This will help them feel a connection to your practice, so when they’re ready to find a dental home yours will be at the top of their list.

Make emergencies part of the plan. There’s a reason your team members get annoyed when emergency patients call: they’re not prepared for it. Working these patients in throws off the entire day, and that just leads to extra stress for everyone in the practice. That’s why I recommend putting a plan in place to handle emergencies, which can be as simple as designating slots in your schedule for them. It’s also a good idea to leave openings for emergency patients who are ready to schedule comprehensive exams before they leave. You want these patients to schedule within a week after their emergency visit if possible. That way, the experience still will be fresh in their minds.

Don’t think many of these patients will actually schedule comprehensive exams? They should. In fact, 80% of all emergency patients who visit your practice should. If they’re not, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for practice growth.

Follow up with emergency patients. Give patients a call after they leave to see how they’re feeling and if they have any questions. Thank them for choosing your practice and make it clear you’re happy to help in any way you can. Then, send them a packet of information via snail mail that includes a handwritten note. Trust me, this will go a long way in earning their loyalty.

Look at emergency patients as an opportunity to grow your practice rather than a nuisance. Following these tips will help them feel connected to your practice, making them much more likely to become loyal patients who accept treatment and refer.

Next Thursday: Keep Emergency Patients Coming Back Share this Newsletter

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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