Keep Emergency Patients Coming Back

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

It’s a call most of your team members dread. A patient with a dental emergency is hoping the doctor can see her today, and as soon as possible. She’s in a panic and says she doesn’t know where else to go. The team member who answers the call knows this is going to throw off the schedule and add extra stress to the day, but she sighs and lets the patient know that while it’s going to be tight, they’ll find a way to work her in. Before hanging up, she reminds the patient payment is due at the time of service, then lets the rest of the team know what’s coming their way.

How would you feel if you were that patient? You’re in pain and desperate to find help, and the team member you talk to acts like she’s doing you a huge favor by getting you in. She made it clear the call itself was a bit of a bother, and that the dentist already had a busy day. Would you want to call that practice again? Probably not, which explains why so many emergency patients never come back.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you make the right changes, you can turn emergency patients into loyal patients. How, you ask? Here are my tips:

Make sure team members know how important emergency patients are. I suggest you take the time to talk with team members about emergency patients and the fact they represent an opportunity to grow your practice. Building a rapport with these patients and making them feel cared for will go a long way in turning them into loyal patients. Develop scripts and train team members to take a caring tone when talking with emergency patients. Doing so will help improve those interactions and start the relationship off on the right foot.

This, of course, continues when they arrive at the practice. Team members should give these patients extra attention and do whatever it takes to make them feel at ease. Little things like asking them if they’d like water as they wait and assuring they’re in good hands will go a long way, but take it a step further by offering to help them fill out paperwork. Take them to a private consultant room where they can wait for the doctor without having to be around other patients. Make it clear the practice cares about their well-being and wants to get them out of pain quickly. They’ll be thankful for this level of service, and will remember how kind your team members were when it’s time to schedule a comprehensive exam.

Show them the value in the dentistry you provide. Many emergency patients haven’t been to a dentist in years (which is often why they’re experiencing an emergency). This might simply be because they don’t see the value in dentistry. You can help change that by providing them with education chairside.

Talk to them about their condition and how important prevention is to maintaining their oral health. Show them their x-rays and images from the intraoral camera so they can see what you see. Have them watch videos and give them brochures. Talk with them about the services you offer and how your practice can help get them to optimal health. If you take the time to provide education, they’ll have a much better understanding of why they need to take better care of their oral health, and that could prompt them to schedule a comprehensive exam with your office.

Pay attention to cues. There’s a reason these patients don’t go to the dentist on a regular basis. If you find out why, you can tailor your education to address their fears or any perceived barriers to care. I suggest you train your dental assistant to take note of any obstacles that patients bring up when she talks with them about scheduling a comprehensive exam. Here are a few things to take note of during these conversations:

-Patients appear scared or anxious

-They keep asking about how much treatment will cost, how much pain they’ll be in afterward or how long the procedure will take

-They keep apologizing because it’s been so long since they’ve seen a dentist

-They seem angry or frustrated

-They mention a negative dental experience that has kept them from making routine dental appointments

Once you know their concerns, you can address them chairside. Not only will this help them see value in the care you provide, they’ll appreciate you taking the time to educate them—making them feel a connection to your practice.

Leave room in the schedule. If you have spots designated for emergency patients, fitting them in will be much less stressful. Instead of moving things around, the Scheduling Coordinator can slide patients into these openings and let them know the doctor will get them out of discomfort as soon as possible.

Emergency patients don’t have to be a source of stress for you and your team members. They should be looked at as an opportunity for growth and a welcome addition to your schedule. Instead of rushing them out, take the time to educate emergency patients and to show them you care, and they’ll want to come back to your practice.

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