Patients Notice Everything!
By Carol Tekavec RDH
Dentists want to attract new patients and keep their existing patients. We spend time, energy and money looking into marketing, keeping our websites interesting, and tracking new patient traffic. These efforts are important and should never be neglected. But we can’t stop there. We need to realize that when our patients come into our offices they are typically on “high alert.” They are paying attention to everything, from the cleanliness and décor of the reception area, to whether or not the rest rooms have enough toilet paper. We need to focus on what they see and perceive from their points of view. It is important that we never drive away a good patient by neglecting some of the basics. A few suggestions:
Clean Reception Area
The reception area must be clean and inviting with spotless carpet, clean chairs and tables, and an assortment of reading materials. Educational brochures, books, and magazines can be placed in this area, but don’t neglect to put out the latest People Magazine or Sports Illustrated. Children’s magazines or activity books are also appreciated. What about offering coloring books and crayons? We want our patients to be at ease and entertained while they await their appointments. The reception area sets the stage.
No one likes to be kept waiting. In fact it is one of the most common complaints patients have about their medical and dental appointments. Dentists try hard to keep the schedule moving, and as a hygienist I am ever cognizant of the time. Usually we are able to keep to our appointment times. But what do we do when a procedure takes longer than expected and our next patient has arrived? It appears that most people will accept a slight delay if they do not feel that they are being ignored. To me this means that if a patient is going to be kept waiting longer than ten minutes, someone needs to inform the patient and give them the opportunity to reschedule. Seriously. The patient coordinator at the front desk can do this, or the assistant or hygienist can go out to the reception area and let the patient know. Patients will rarely decide to reschedule. After all, they are already there and usually want to proceed as planned. However, being given the option shows that the office values their time. We want our patients to respect their appointment times, and to do this we need to show that we respect their schedule as well.
Hand Washing and Gloves
A recent poll showed many patients are worried that dental staff are not washing their hands or changing gloves frequently enough. Patients notice when a gloved hygienist touches a drawer handle and then goes right back into their mouths. Patients see when their dentist comes from another treatment room wearing gloves, and then sits down and starts treating them. They wonder if the gloves have been used on another patient, or if the dentist touched other items before coming into the treatment room. We need to be very aware of hand cleanliness and the appearance of sanitary practices. The dentist should wash his hands in front of the patient and then put on clean gloves prior to beginning treatment. The hygienist should remove gloves to open any drawer or touch other items, and then wash and put on clean gloves before resuming care. While all of us know these rules, we must take great care to observe them and let the patients see us observing them. Most patients will be reluctant to mention a hand washing concern, but if they are worried, they may decide not to come back to our office. We must not let this happen.
Treatment Room Cleanliness
All areas that might be touched during treatment should be covered with disposables, and items on counters should be kept to a minimum. Other non-covered areas should be meticulously clean. Sit in the patient chair and look around the room. Is the patient light free of any spatter? Is the room light free of dust, dirt and bugs? In Colorado we have a long “miller moth” season where moths are everywhere. Nothing could do more to discourage a patient than looking up into the room light cover and seeing a left-over dead moth!
The restroom that patients use must be pristine. Assign someone the task of checking on the restroom several times during the day. The sink, counter tops, mirror and floor must be absolutely clean. The toilet paper roll and paper towel dispenser should be full and ready. The trashcan should not be overflowing. If the restroom is not clean, patients wonder if the treatment rooms are clean. We don’t want them to wonder.
None of these suggestions are hard to accomplish. They also don’t cost any money! Ensuring that your existing patients have confidence that you care about their time and are providing them with a clean, safe environment will encourage them to refer their friends. Patients notice everything.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.
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