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11.11.05 Issue #192  
"Just Answer the Phone and Take a Message" A VERY EXPENSIVE STATEMENT, How is Your Phone Being Answered?

Belle M. DuCharme
RDA, CDPMA. Director
The Center for
Dental Career Development

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Telephone skills are the lifeblood of a practice yet little if any time is spent teaching your staff to answer patients’ questions correctly.  If you are spending marketing dollars to make the phone ring and the people answering do not know the practice policies such as quoting fees, or for what insurance plans the doctor is a participating provider or what the patient can expect at the first visit or what to say when a patient cancels etc., then you need to take the time necessary to train all staff that will be answering the phone.  Typically the front office business manager in her hurried day does not see the need until she is ill or has to leave the office for emergency personal business.  “How much harm can they do in a couple of hours or days?”  She asks herself as she runs out the door. 

A potential patient who is calling your office and gets “I don’t know if the doctor takes your insurance.” Or “I don’t know how much the cleaning is, you will have to call back when the office manager is here.”  Or, ”I don’t work up here, I am the assistant, I can take your name and have our receptionist call you back.”  Does this sound like the office you would trust to provide the best dental care?   Unless they are highly recommended by a close friend I would move on to the next dentist on my list.

Adopting formal telephone answering protocol is not difficult and once in place, it alleviates stress on the team and the patient.  Knowing how to answer the everyday routine questions is fundamental.  Perfecting the listening and communication skills necessary to guide patients into appointments comes with practice and genuine care and concern for the patient.  Everyone who answers the phone should be cross-trained to set up an appointment on the computer.  If the initial appointment begins with taking radiographs, intra-orals and a Comprehensive Exam with the doctor, this appointment becomes the New Patient Appointment and is written into the Telephone Training Manual.  Writing your telephone protocols and placing them in a three ring binder for all to refer to is an excellent way to train new staff and refresh existing staff.  Having everyone trained as to what to say if someone is canceling is vitally important.  For instance, if you decide that you will say to anyone who is trying to cancel, “I am sorry that something came up, Mr. Brown, but you did not give me enough time to fill your appointment time, is there any way at all that you can make your appointment today?”  Mr. Brown replies, “I am sorry, but no.” “ Mr. Brown, I do understand how unexpected events can happen. In the future we would appreciate a 24 hour notice to cancel appointments.”  It is important to note in the patient’s record that the office policy was quoted to the patient.

Deciding how to handle emergency patients can save a schedule.  “We can see you at 11:30 this morning or 2:00 this afternoon.  The visit will be between $100 and $175.00 and will include diagnosing and relief of your discomfort.  Payment can be made by cash, check, Visa or MasterCard.  Which appointment time would you like?”  Emergency patients should not be allowed to dictate when they will come in and should understand that payment is expected that day.  Place this dialogue under Emergency Patient Appointment in your Telephone Training Manual.

When you have effective communication systems in place, patients are more compliant with keeping their appointments and more readily accept treatment recommendations.    Personal contact with you or your team whether positive or negative, is the most memorable part of the dental care experience. 

If you are interested in training to establish your Telephone Training Protocol, contact us at or visit our web site at or call 1-877-777-6151.

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