Prevention: 5 Keys to Keep Patients Coming Back
Tracy Anderson Butler, CRDH, MFT
As dental professionals know, placing an emphasis on “prevention” is key to a successful practice. As such, the dental hygiene department is often the heart of the dental practice. Patients typically spend 3 to 4 hours annually with their dental hygienist. Most are seen multiple times throughout the year. The dental hygiene department is often where patients turn to “decode” what the doctor has said following a diagnosis or treatment plan. Many patients will ask their dental hygienist “What did he/she just say?” or “Do you think I should do this?” Indeed, a strong hygiene department is invaluable.
Today’s economic environment has strongly impacted the dental profession. Elective dentistry is often low on peoples’ lists of priorities, as they seem to prefer to spend their hard-earned money elsewhere. When it comes to their oral health, patients may be reluctant to accept treatment, keep appointments, and pay for services rendered in a timely fashion. This leads to several questions to be asked: Why do patients leave a practice and go to another office? What is the true reason why the patient left the practice? What is it patients really want from their dental practice? What steps are clinicians willing to take to set their practice apart?
1. Treat the Patient, Not Just the Tooth
Patients want to know their dental practice cares about them, from the receptionist, to the hygienist, to the dentist. Patients are people, and people naturally want to be heard. Opportunities frequently exist to connect with patients—to listen, to be present, and learn their story, if only briefly. People relate to other people in habitual ways, and in a busy dental practice the staff can easily fall into a daily routine. Typically, patients are greeted and escorted back to the treatment room, and the next thing they know a cold mouth mirror and sharp explorer are being poked around inside their mouth. Taking a moment to sit eye level with patients and ask their expectations and concerns, and, most importantly, listen to their needs is critical to a successful case outcome. Happy patients refer other patients.
2. Periodontal Charting
The comprehensive periodontal chart is somewhat like a GPS for the oral cavity, offering directional guidance. Early detection of any disease process is key, and in dentistry the periodontal chart can be the first defense toward a successful case outcome. A very important aspect to gathering the data of periodontal charting is for the patient to hear the findings. When clinicians spot probe or document findings in silence this devalues the importance of the examination results. Common obstacles in establishing value for a comprehensive periodontal chart may be time or the added cost of a support person to chart findings. However, technology today has solved both of these issues with voice recognition/activation software and foot-controlled data entry assistance.
Often times following diagnosis and case presentation, patients schedule an appointment, only to cancel or fail to show. Patients sometimes say “yes” to treatment simply to get out of an uncomfortable situation, or one they do not value as necessary. Involving the patient in the data discovery and arriving at a co-diagnosis together takes pressure off of the doctor and team and, most importantly, allows the patient to own their condition and make decisions based on value, not price. Patients are consumers and, therefore, love to buy and hate to be sold.
4. Time, Pain, Money
Three things patients really want to know are: 1) “How much time will the procedure take or how long will the treatment last?”; 2) “How much will the procedure hurt?”; 3) “How much will the treatment cost?”. When fear is the true objection, it often trumps cost and time. It is important to validate patients’ concerns and let them know you understand. Reassuring patients on ways the dental team is committed to keeping them comfortable while fitting necessary treatment into their schedule and budget creates long-term relationships. When these three points are addressed, patients see the dental team as a trusted advisor and the choice provider.
5. Regeneration, a Differentiator
Patients have many choices when it comes to selecting a dental provider, and they have also come to expect that their dentist office has embraced the latest technology. Much of the strategy and business advice dentists employ focuses on the dental hygiene department, with strong emphasis on production or chasing the ever sought-after new patient. A study published in April 2013 Harvard Business Review revealed that the most successful companies compete on differentiating factors other than price, and look to increase revenues versus reduce costs. This point means that keeping current with the latest materials, techniques, and procedures is key to a successful practice. Regenerative dentistry provides a prime differentiating factor, since patients generally want to keep their own teeth. Many regenerative candidates are living under the loupes of dentists and hygienists every day. Incorporating regenerative solutions in everyday practice keeps restorative dentistry looking greater longer, expands the practice’s service mix, and helps create loyal customers inclined to refer future patients to the practice.
About the Author
Tracy Anderson Butler, CRDH, MFT
National Director, Hygiene Education/Public Relations, Straumann USA, LLC