NEA Presents...

A Day in the Life of New Patient

In any job, it’s easy to get caught up in the rigmarole of everyday work tasks and procedures. Everyone has too much to do and not enough time to do it, however, in a business like a dental practice where patients are your lifeblood, taking them for granted can be a big mistake.

Look at it from a new patient’s perspective for a moment. This article is based on an actual patient’s experience as relayed to NEA.

Many patients would rather do anything except go to the dentist; however, when the time comes that they decide their pain is getting worse or they’ve been too long without a cleaning, they have no choice but to start down the road of finding a new dentist. If they have insurance, they likely start their search by reviewing the dental insurance provider list for the closest dentist. They might google them and see what their website looks like, what services they offer and what their hours are before whittling down the list to the one that “looks the best.”

The call

After a cursory bit of research, they work up the courage to make the call to the dentist’s office. What happens on the other end of that call can be the difference between gaining a new patient or losing one to your competition.

A sentiment echoed by Jay Geier, president and founder of the Scheduling Institute in a recent article on DrBicuspid.com, “If your team member picks up the telephone without being properly trained to convert every call into a real, tangible appointment on your schedule, then that person is unknowingly allowing new patients to slip through his or her fingers every single day. And that means you are unknowingly losing thousands of dollars in new patient value every week, which adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. All of this is happening because of a lack of commitment.”

A prospective new patient wants to hear a friendly voice on the other end of the call; one that’s willing to look up the insurance information to verify that their practice accepts the plan; one that asks when is a good time to setup an appointment rather than simply providing the next available dates; one that’s not rushed while the patient is fumbling to find the card and plan number in their over-stuffed wallet; one that answers all of their questions, no matter how routine. It all makes a difference.

The appointment

Fast-forward to the actual appointment date where the patient comes to the office for the first time. Again, it’s the simple things that make a difference – a smiling face, rather than a dismissive wave by someone on the phone pointing to a sign-in sheet. There’s always a myriad of new patient paperwork to be filled-out, so anything your practice can do to review their forms regularly and remove questions that are duplicates is an easy way to make things go more smoothly. You might be surprised, but some practices ask for the same exact information two or three times in the same series of forms. Having to repeatedly scribble the same information over and over is frustrating to patients – not to mention, it takes more time for all involved. Keep your forms succinct, gathering only required information in an efficient, easy to follow format.

Beyond managing your forms, making a concerted effort to tell the patient approximately how long it will be until they’re taken back for their visit – even if it’s just an estimate – can help calm their nerves. If the doctor is running behind schedule, an honest explanation can be the difference in a one-time patient visit and a newly loyal customer.

Once taken back for the exam, x-rays and whatever else is needed, polite, reassuring conversation to help the patient relax as you explain exactly what you’re going to be doing is a great way to inform and earn their trust. Relaying personal (but not too personal) stories about your own experiences with dentists, cleanings, oral appliances or anything really that enables them to connect with you will help begin to build trust.

The treatment plan

In wrapping up the visit, it can be tempting to provide patients with a laundry list of all of the procedures they need (because, they really do need them,) but temper that list with explanations of what’s needed when and why, making sure to prioritize procedures needed most urgently. Second only to a patient’s fear of the dentist is the fear of all of the costs associated with the services they need (sometimes this may indeed be their top fear.) Anything you can do to explain a workable solution for addressing their oral health needs while working within their financial abilities to pay will go a long way. Hearing that they need $4,500 worth of work that needs to start right away can be a shock to anyone, but hearing that they could start next week with a deep cleaning that will only cost them $250, then we’ll move forward with the next step of the treatment plan in a few weeks is much more palatable.

The follow-up

Making the follow-up appointment is key, but be careful not to push. Your new patient has just received a lot of information – and possibly a bit of sticker-shock – so while you obviously want to urge them to make that next appointment, don’t push too hard. Offer to let them review the treatment plan and call back to make the appointment, but stress to them that your schedule is booking quickly and that if they’d like to at least make an appointment at this time – even if they need to cancel and reschedule for later – they can do that. It gets it on your schedule and gives them the flexibility to not feel overwhelmed.

Finally, back to a point we addressed earlier about explaining the wait time and being realistic. If your new patient has had an unusually long wait time, you should consider compensating them in some small way. Show them that you realize their time is valuable. Even though it may not seem like much, a small gesture as simple as a $5 coffee gift card will make an impression well worth the investment.

Let’s face it. Nothing that you just read is rocket science. It’s common sense. If you always put yourself into the shoes of your patient, you’ll know what to do.

[This article was written by a scared, dental phobic, new patient that had an amazing experience at a newly selected dentist. It’s purely editorial relaying facts and feelings as well as actual experiences and suggestions for dental practices.]