Inside Dentistry
March 2017
Volume 13, Issue 3

Create and Retain Patients through Engagement

Cathy Jameson, PhD

For a long time, the mantra of business has been, “the customer is first.” So, yes, the patient is the reason for the practice in the first place. However, without engaged employees, the patient will not be satisfied. In today’s digital world, finding an alternative provider is easy. Trust is hard to establish, easy to lose, and even more difficult to regain. Engaged employees who create and retain patients are the heartbeat of any healthy practice.

If a practice is to not only survive, but also thrive in financially challenging times, the entire team must be “engaged” in educating patients about the value and benefit of both the treatment itself and the financial options made available in the practice. In fact, the most current ADA surveys note that “cost” is the major reason people do not come to the dentist and do not say “yes” to treatment once it has been presented.

When I lecture throughout the country, I always ask, “how many of you are involved with a patient financing program?” Most hands go up. Then I ask a more important question, “How many of you are maximizing your program?” Not a hand goes up. I always congratulate the audience and say, “good for you for knowing that.” That means there is room for growth and improvement. The way to gain higher levels of case acceptance and increased productivity is to motivate patients more emphatically and to remove the barrier of money. For most people (not all—but most) the issue is not that the fee is too high—the issue is “I need a way to pay this out.” Only engaged team members who “get this” can clear the way for this to happen.

Engaged Team Members

Here are the six steps you want to achieve with each patient: (1) they come to you in the appropriate numbers; (2) they say yes to your treatment recommendations; (3) they schedule their appointments and keep them; (4) they pay for the treatment willingly; (5) they stay actively involved with you; (6) they refer others to you.

Why Is Engagement Important?

There are several main reasons why engaged team members are valuable team members, such as:

• The team member is the organization from the perspective of the patient. A good encounter creates loyal patients. A bad encounter does the opposite.
• Engaged team members build the practice. Individual productivity translates to a more productive and profitable practice.
• Less team member turnover.
• Better service leads to higher demand. Higher demand and perceived value leads to higher fees.
• Organizations focused on highly engaged employees will end up on top. People can easily choose whom they spend their money with—and it might as well be you.

How Do You Promote Engagement?

The mission and vision of the organization must be focused on employee development, as well as on customer service and nurturing long-time relationships with patients. Make retention a valuable and honored asset to your organization. Reward people for retention. Develop a culture dedicated to employee improvement and success. Customer success cannot happen without employee success.

Obtain feedback from patients. Provide this feedback to the team—regularly. Recognize and continue that which is going well and alter the things that need improvement. Establish benchmarks or goals and track them. Make changes if they are not being met.

Use the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat your team members just as you would want them to treat your patients.


Ask yourselves: “What difference could it make to the bottom-line, to controlling stress, and to our enjoyment at work if patients stayed with us, referred to us, complained less, and expressed enthusiasm for our work/service?” That is the question. The answer lies in engagement.

Consider the following fundamentals to amplify engagement:

1. Provide products and services that exceed expectations.
2. Be creative. Continue to develop new and better products and services that meet the ever-changing needs of new and existing clients, including financial services.
3. Pay attention to what patients say. Change if necessary.
4. Track appropriate data that measures your benchmarks and the effectiveness of your people and systems.
5. Try not to become defensive if a patient gives difficult feedback. Positive change can come about when you face reality.

Remember, financing is the greatest of all barriers to your service. Continue to study the communication skills of making a financial arrangement. Be proud of your financial services, as these are the gateway to your patient’s health, in many instances. Make sure your team sees your financial partner as just that—a partner in your patient care.

Engaged Employees Create Engaged Customers

In my latest book, I teach principles of leadership for all members of the team. When you study and implement these principles, you create engaged employees/team members who epitomize the following:

• They are committed to the purpose and mission of the company.
• They help to design and support the strategic plan for practice growth.
• They are respected and respectful.
• They are confident and competent in their skills.
• They want to receive feedback and reward for work well done—including recognition and appreciation.
• They express their opinions without fear of reprimand.
• They are included and involved.
• They are encouraged to “engage.”

Committing your practice to engagement translates to satisfied patients, a dedicated team, and an executive team that is grateful for that commitment.

About the Author

Cathy Jameson, PhD, is founder of Jameson Management, Inc. The Jameson team of advisors helps improve the lives of dental professionals worldwide through practice management, marketing, and clinical coaching. For more information, visit www.JamesonManagement.com, where you can find her latest book, Creating a Healthy Work Environment, or register for complimentary webinars. Or, call 877-369-5558 to speak with a Jameson team member about your practice.

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