Two Things Patients Want
I read many dental journals, magazines, and blogs. I enjoy looking at websites and try to follow emerging trends in dentistry. While dentistry continues to change and evolve, there are certain features to providing dental treatment that don’t seem to vary much. Regardless of our techniques and clinical improvements, patients consistently want two main things from their care. They want competent treatment and they want to be dealt with honestly.
Patients often come to a practice with complaints about their previous dentist. They may say they had restorations that “fell out” or hurt for months after placement. They may tell about crowns that didn’t fit, or root canals that failed. They may express that they were not really numb or the dentist seemed as if he didn’t care. For hygienists, complaints of a former hygienist being rough can be common.
We all know that patients may be exaggerating or are just simply hard to please. I know of a patient who complained and eventually left a dental practice because no one called her to see how she was getting along with a new night guard. She had been instructed to call if she had any issues, but she felt someone should have taken the initiative to call her. However, we don’t want patients leaving our practices because of complaints concerning competency.
Since patients usually don’t really know whether they are receiving competent treatment or not, they typically evaluate competency based primarily on whether the dentist and staff appear to care about them. Prior to any treatment, either a patient coordinator or the dentist needs to have a conversation about what procedures will be taking place and how the patient may feel. Sensitivity, swelling, discomfort or other effects of treatment that are addressed before a procedure are explanations. Given after treatment they may be viewed as excuses.
Conversation is important, but actions are even more so. If a filling is placed and is found to be sensitive, patients want to have their concerns addressed. Assuring them over the phone that the sensitivity will likely fade in time may not be enough. Having the patient come back to the office and adjusting the bite or placing a fluoride varnish may be needed. If the site is still sensitive, repeating this or replacing the restoration with another material might help. It goes without saying that if a recent filling has fallen out, it must be replaced as quickly as possible, and at no charge.
If a patient appears to be difficult to get numb, have them arrive for their appointments 30 minutes early so they are given ample time for the anesthetic to take effect. Hygienists also need to have enough time to take care of patients gently. If a hygienist is always rushing it is hard to maintain a light touch.
Pre-fab notebooks of before and after pictures can be great to show what is possible, particularly in the area of cosmetic dentistry. They can be a fabulous tool. If the notebooks appear to be “homemade” the assumption is that the pictures are featuring patients of the practice. Offices need to decide if these notebooks are good for their practices. Most dentists have patients who have received beautiful cosmetic restorations, crowns, and veneers and are very happy. Often these patients are delighted to have a professional photograph taken of their lovely new smiles. A book featuring these patients, or even framed photos in the reception area can be very powerful. When another patient has a question about a procedure that has been recommended, a staff person can take them out to look at the photo that illustrates what is being proposed. “Here is what we were able to do for one of our patients.” Honest and effective.
New patients are also leery of “offers”. If your office has decided to offer a discounted service, think twice before adding on additional charges after the patient arrives. For example, new patient exams at a discounted amount or for free, with radiographs needed and charged for when the patient arrives.
Competence and honesty are two important traits of a dental office that will remain important to patients, regardless of new technologies or trends.
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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