Doís and Doníts for a New Patient Appointment
Few things are more important than patient perceptions during a new patient exam or emergency visit. Happy and satisfied patients will tell, on average, five other people about their great experience. An unhappy and dissatisfied patient will tell at least ten (and then go on Google or Facebook to further complain about you). Therefore, it is important to provide the best new patient experience possible!
When meeting a new patient for the first time, try very hard to appear upbeat and happy to see them. It may be 3:30 in the afternoon after an exhausting day, but convey as much positive energy as possible. Listen carefully to what they say so you can appropriately address their primary needs and concerns. If you make a good impression during this first appointment, patients will tend to be forgiving later if something does not turn out perfectly. It creates the “halo effect” – if someone already likes you, they tend to dismiss a possible problem as a one-of-a-kind thing. If they don’t like you, they may categorize a misstep as one of a string of problems.
For new patient exams, here are a few suggestions:
Do welcome the patient with a smile and by name. Front desk staff can introduce the chairside or hygienist who will be caring for the patient. The hygienist can say, “I’m so glad to meet you. We are happy you are here.” Don’t hand the patient a clipboard while looking down at the desk. Muttering “fill this out” and ignoring the patient for the next twenty minutes until they have to come to the desk to see if they’ve been forgotten is not an effective strategy. Don’t make new patients wait!!
Do introduce yourself. Walk out to where the patient is sitting and say, “Mrs. Smith? My name is Carol. I am Dr. Jones’ hygienist. I will be taking care of you today.” Don’t stand at the doorway and yell, “Mrs. Smith!”
Do ask the patient how they heard about your office. Make a note of this. If it was an online source, be sure to monitor the website frequently. If a current patient referred them, be sure to send a thank-you of some type. Don’t forget this important step! Don’t start right in with x-rays or other “routine new patient” procedures. Begin by going over their medical history and visiting for awhile. Even if you are busy, find out about the patient and prepare them for what will be happening during this appointment. No one likes surprises.
Do have the dentist come in to meet the patient and perform a preliminary exam prior to any radiographs if at all possible. Patients appreciate x-rays being “ordered” rather than just routine. If the dentist is busy, the chairside or hygienist can explain the need for radiographs. Don’t let patients leave without setting up an appointment for their next treatment or treatment conference. Tell patients at the close of the appointment, “If you have any friends or family who need a good dentist, we would love to meet them.”
For New Patient Emergencies:
Do go over their medical history at the chair before beginning any treatment. No local anesthesia or other services should be started prior to this. Don’t act rushed and annoyed if the patient tells you a tooth has been bothering them for a month. Even though we are thinking, “A month!!! And you are just coming in now?” we must keep in mind that satisfied emergency patients can become patients of record, along with their entire family. Keep calm.
Do take a radiograph or use other diagnostic tools such as a cavity-viewing wand right away, even if the dentist cannot come in immediately. When the dentist comes in, this important information will be ready to help make a diagnosis. Don’t worry about the dentist not meeting the patient first if he/she is in another treatment room. Make introductions in the operatory and address the patient’s concerns and pain. This is different from the new patient exam procedure; but the circumstances are very different as well.
Do perform palliative treatment today. It is very important for the patient to be comfortable when leaving the office. Don’t perform complete treatment today if other patients are scheduled. You may make one patient happy while making three patients unhappy if they are waiting for their scheduled time while the dentist performs an unscheduled crown prep and seat.
Do make every effort to set up a regular examination with the emergency patient before he or she leaves the office. Don’t release an emergency patient without a plan for the future. Call the patient at the end of the day or the next morning to see how they are doing. A follow-up call is good for patient care and good for the practice as well. Don’t let emergency patients get lost in the mix. A properly treated and satisfied emergency patient can become a powerful practice ambassador.
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