Your patient’s appointment doesn’t start when they get into your chair—it begins the moment they walk in the door. Their relationship doesn’t end when they leave the office, either. How you communicate with them both in and out of the office helps maintain and improve patient relationships.
Dental practice management, especially when growing your dental business, requires both keeping existing patients and attracting new ones. The better you treat the customers you already have, the more likely they are to stay with you and suggest your practice to their friends and colleagues.
So what are best practices to maintain and improve relationships with existing patients?
1. Maintaining a Tight Schedule Improves Patient Relationships
As much as you try and keep the schedule moving along, sometimes things happen. A single late patient can throw off your entire schedule. A staff member who is out sick can wreak havoc on your whole day. Even with adequate staffing and staggered appointments, the day often gets away from even the best dental practice. What can you do to make sure this is the exception and not the rule?
Make sure your staff informs you of how frequently dental patients are waiting past their scheduled appointment time. If it’s once in a while, congratulations! You and the team are doing a great job of running a tight ship. But keep in mind: You won’t be able to see a pattern until you’re paying attention, so make sure the front of office staff has the tools and resources they need to track patient flow.
As we stated above, sometimes even under the best of circumstances, the day gets away from us. Some ideas that you can implement to improve patient relationships even when the schedule gets bogged down include:
- Let patients know you’re running behind. Dental patients always appreciate honesty and transparency.
- Keep the waiting room clean and stocked. Fast and free wifi, a television or music playing, and cold water (bottled is best due to COVID restrictions) can at least keep folks entertained and content while they wait.
- Apologize and keep checking in. The moment the front desk staff apologizes for delays, the less likely your patients will become frustrated and impatient.
- Tell the staff to keep you informed. Often, the dentist isn’t necessarily aware of a bottleneck in the waiting room. When you know the patient has been waiting, that gives you the opportunity to offer your own personal apology as well.
- Learn the competition’s secrets, and borrow the ones that work! Study the best practices of other successful dentists and adopt some of their ideas.
2. Learn About Your Dental Patients
As a healthcare provider, it’s important for your patients to feel comfortable with and connected to you; the more comfortable, the more likely they are to share personal information that leads to their optimal health.
When you maintain a social and comfortable atmosphere, a dental patient could disclose something they could be confused about or even embarrassed to admit. For example, if your patient is a smoker, it’s better that they trust you enough to admit it so you can discuss the impact on their overall and dental health.
That is even more true for pediatric dental patients and their parents. Children often are afraid of, or intimidated by, all types of medical procedures, and especially dental appointments. The more they trust and come to like you, the more likely they are to take your sound advice about taking care of their teeth and gums. Send parents helpful tips about how to help their children maintain a healthy smile to maintain your connection with the whole family.
Stuck for ideas? Stick with basic and non-controversial topics like hobbies, restaurants, vacations, or professions. It can be awkward to have conversations when someone is getting examined obviously, so try and build in time to chat with your dental patients into your schedule.
3. Allow for a Question and Answer Period Before and After the Procedure
Engaging in open and candid discussions about their care is easily one of the most effective ways to improve patient relationships. Build in enough time for every appointment for your patients to ask questions. Dental patients are often ashamed about what they don’t know or too shy or introverted to ask direct questions.
It’s up to you to provide them the opportunity with a simple: “Before we start, do you have any questions for me?” That is often enough to get them to open up. Before they leave, try closing every appointment with, “Did you have any more questions about your procedure or what to do at home?”
Make sure all of your patients have plenty of opportunities to ask questions, both in and out of the office. They should always feel welcome to call, email, or make follow up appointments, especially if they’ve just had a big surgery, like implants. It should be easy for them to figure out how to contact you from the website, so even if they misplace an appointment card or business card, they can always get their questions answered.
Making these efforts demonstrates that you sincerely care about your patients’ health and wellbeing.
4. Show Your Gratitude
If there’s something that patients don’t have a shortage of when it comes to finding a dentist, it’s choice. How do you keep patients coming back? Often, people select a dentist because the office is close to home or work. What if they move or switch jobs? What are the little things you can do that will retain their loyalty?
Every dentist should have a patient rewards program of some kind. Even a simple gesture, like sending a card on their birthday or over the holidays, makes people feel appreciated.
Here are some other easy, scalable, and affordable ways to say “thank you” to your patients regularly.
- Gift cards. Celebrate patient anniversaries and/or birthdays with $10 or $15 gift cards every year.
- Charitable donations. Make regular contributions to local nonprofits and charities. Share that organization’s mission with your patients and talk about the importance of giving back.
- Birthday and holiday cards. Recognizing your patients birthdays with a card makes them feel special. Use the holiday season or Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to share some gratitude and joy.
- Goodie bags and gift bags. Bag up branded toothbrushes and other goodies (like travel-sized toothpaste and floss) to give patients after every visit.
- Referral rewards. Offer patients who bring you business a free cleaning or some other perk related to your business.
- Replicate on social media. Sure, everyone loves getting stuff in the mail. But don’t underestimate the power of reaching out and saying “thanks” with a private message on social media, too. (Most platforms are also a good way to talk about your office culture and any charitable work—see above.)
Building and improving relationships with your patients is a holistic process. Implementing even one or two of these ideas can help to ensure that your patients’ overall experience starts when they walk into the office and doesn’t end until the moment they leave.