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11.28.08 Issue #351 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Belle DuCharme CDPMA
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Is The Customer (Patient) Always Right?

There is an old saying that the customer is always right. This saying, along with the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, has been a core value of customer service for many decades. During the course Telephone Skill Training which is offered at McKenzie Management, trainees are asked to identify difficult situations in scheduling patients so that a scripted response can be developed to help them remain in control. The usual suspects take the form of patients that cancel without sufficient notice or who don’t show up at all. Sometimes cancellations and no-shows happen for good reason; if the patient, however, is a repeat offender and continues to expect the practice to tolerate this lack of commitment to keeping scheduled appointments, this is not right. The problem needs to be communicated to the patient.

So, like any number of old sayings, this one about customers isn’t always true. There are gray areas of patient management that must be addressed. What do you say to the patients when they are wrong?

  • First, never let patients feel that they were wrong to have chosen your practice for dental care.
  • Second, the patients may not be right, but you still have to work with them for resolution.

How to script the response to patients that cancel at the last minute or don’t show up at all should be based on the doctor’s philosophy and the practice scheduling system. When presenting the treatment plan and subsequent scheduling, patients must be told the amount of time that is scheduled, what will happen during the appointment, any post-op instructions and the expected recovery time. Financial options must be presented and the patients must communicate how they intend to pay for services. If a patient makes an appointment and you have not discussed how he/she is going to pay, it often leads to a cancelled appointment. It is very important to explain to patients that appointment times are reserved just for them and that the doctor and the team are looking forward to providing their services. Patients must acknowledge understanding of your system of confirmation, whether it happens two days or 24 hours prior to their appointments, and realize that every attempt must be made to keep them.

If you receive a patient complaint about a procedure, service or product, it is important to engage in active listening skills to get the patient’s point of view and to provide positive feedback in order to keep a situation from escalating to an argument. Dissatisfaction that arises from a problem, such as discomfort after an endodontic procedure, unhappiness about the shade of a crown, or a miscommunication of the amount of payment due, has to be viewed as being valid until you get all of the facts.

Telephone Skill Training teaches you to remain calm and in control and to remember that an objection is not a rejection. Responding to issues without alienating the patient takes practice and good listening skills.

Here is a sample script to use when handling a patient that is going down the wrong path:

(P) Hello, this is Mrs. Smith. I was just there in the office today. I am a new patient and I have been thinking that I would like the teeth filled, not capped, and I want to make monthly payments to the doctor because I do not have any credit cards—nor do I want them. I pay my bills on time and I want to do it this way because this is what I did at my last dentist office.

(O) Mrs. Smith, thank you for considering our office for your dental needs. We know that we can provide you with excellent service. I have your treatment plan in front of me and can see the doctor’s notes. We provided you with a written treatment plan detailing the options. Dr. Brown has noted that the two teeth on the lower right side— #30 and #31—have large, old, defective fillings in place. Dr. Brown will not know the full extent of the condition of the teeth until he removes the old fillings and can view what is underneath. Often, the removal of old, defective fillings reveals additional decay that does not show in the x-ray. After removal of this decay, a crown and possibly a build-up is the best coverage for what is left of the tooth. Dr. Brown always tries to be conservative in his estimate and if the teeth can be safely filled that is what he will do.

(O) To answer your other question, Mrs. Smith, thank you for assuring us that you pay your statements on time. But because we are a small business and cannot give interest-free loans, we have provided to our patients the services of CareCredit; you can make affordable monthly payments to them. They have an excellent reputation for customer service and can offer a payment plan to suit your needs. All I need is a little information from you to get started with them.

(O) Have I answered all of your questions, Mrs. Smith?

Don’t “wing it” with trial and error when communicating with patients. Learn new skills today by calling us or visiting our website for information about our Telephone Skill Training and Advanced Business Training.

For more information about McKenzie Management’s Advanced Training courses, email, call 1-877-777-6151 or visit our website at

Interested in having Belle speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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