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Inside Dentistry
May 2019
Volume 15, Issue 5

Five Strategies to Build a Patient-Centric Dental Practice

With the dental marketplace growing more crowded every day, you need to set your practice apart

Naomi Cooper

What do Amazon, The Walt Disney Company, Trader Joe's, and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company all have in common? According to a February 15, 2018, Forbes article, "The 10 Most Customer-Obsessed Companies in 2018," each has created a name within its respective industry by providing an unparalleled customer experience. For example, Amazon's Prime service has changed people's expectations regarding the speed of delivery. Is a product even worth having if it cannot be on your doorstep within 2 days of ordering?

These businesses are shining examples of how to cultivate a sense of loyalty in customers by catering to their needs-a lesson that dentists can put to use in their own practices. Whether as a result of a fear of physical pain or concerns about affordability, some patients are wary of even going to the dentist at all. Therefore, practice owners need to find a way to differentiate their offices from their competitors. By building a more patient-centric practice, dentists can separate themselves from the run-of-the-mill practices and build a loyal, long-term patient base.

So, what does it mean to be a patient-centric dental practice? It simply means prioritizing the patient experience in all areas of practice management, including during the appointment process, the patient's time in the chair, collections, post-appointment follow-up, and at all times in between. Patient-centric practices are hyper-focused on patient satisfaction from start to finish. In addition, these practices leverage technology to make dentistry more convenient, more accessible, and more enjoyable for their patients-all without losing that crucial personal touch.

To build a more patient-centric dental practice this year, consider implanting the following five strategies:

1. Make It Easy for Patients to ConnectWith Your Office

For a patient, there is nothing remotely satisfying about playing phone tag with his or her dentist's office, and yet, many front desk teams spend hours on the phone every single day, leaving voicemail after unanswered voicemail. It is time to recognize that very few of today's patients bother to listen to their voicemail messages, and even fewer bother to respond.

Patient-centric dental offices have shifted their communication practices to email and text messaging, which are modes that patients prefer and will actually respond to. By utilizing services that allow for real-time text messaging, your front desk team will be able to confirm appointments, reschedule others, and fill any gaps in your schedule in just minutes rather than spending countless hours on the phone. Patients appreciate the ability to conveniently confirm their appointments from their phones while on the go without ever having to listen to voicemail. Companies that provide these services include Lighthouse360 and Weave Communications.

2. Help Patients Afford Necessary Treatment

Every dentist knows that patients will delay or even refuse treatment if they cannot afford it. Although it is frustrating for the doctor, it is flat out embarrassing for patients to admit that they cannot pay for necessary care. Providing alternative payment options not only helps patients to afford dentistry but also sends the message that the dentist is willing to go above and beyond to help patients get the care they need.

Many of the patient financing services that are available today are automated, which lessens the burden on the dentist in terms of managing the program while helping to keep patients better informed and in charge of their own payment plans. Offering payment alternatives, such as Compassionate Finance, enables dentists to help more patients afford the dentistry that they want and need.

3. Offer Patients a Greater Selection of Services

The dental industry is always changing. It seems as though innovative tools and new procedures are being rolled out more frequently than ever before, and many of these not only help to improve profitability for dentists but also appeal to patients because they save time and minimize discomfort.

Dentists can cater to patients' desires by staying abreast of the latest dental innovations. Same-day restorations will save patients from having to return to the office for multiple visits, in-office whitening treatments help patients achieve their best smiles in less time than at-home treatments, and intraoral scanners can help reduce laboratory fees, improve communication with dental technicians, and eliminate the need for messy, uncomfortable impressions. Whether it involves investing in a state-of-the-art piece of equipment or attending a seminar to learn a new technique, expanding the practice's range of services can help dentists attract a new pool of eager patients.

4. Give Patients the Information They Are Looking for Online

Arguably, a dentist's most powerful marketing tool is his or her practice's website. Current patients rely on the website, and it often provides new patients with one of their first impressions of the practice, so it needs to be kept up-to-date and in line with what patients have come to expect. Do not let an outdated website cause valuable patients to click away; there are countless, engaging ways to keep the website looking fresh and inviting.

The addition of new virtual communication features, such as online appointment scheduling and real-time chat, make the office accessible to all patients 24/7 without the need for staff to work around the clock. Adding a secure portal where patients can view and pay outstanding balances can increase your collections percentage while also positioning the practice as modern and easy to interact with. Having a site that is mobile-friendly and HTTPS-compliant means that patients can access your site from any type of device or network. Finally, ensuring that the practice's contact information and location are prominently displayed on the website ensures that both current and prospective patients will know how to reach you and where to find you.

5. Encourage Patients to Share Their Experiences and Learn From Them

During the past 10 years, word of mouth marketing has become a digital phenomenon. Although prospective patients will still turn to friends and family for dentist recommendations, there is no doubt that they also place a high value on the online reviews of your practice from complete strangers. Online patient reviews can provide a wealth of insight to prospective patients as well as valuable feedback to the dentist who is willing to listen.

A beneficial method of increasing the number of patient testimonials on websites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp is to use a service that allows the practice to automatically send post-appointment surveys. Asking patients for their opinions and feedback is a highly effective way to solicit positive comments, and it shows patients that their doctor is invested in their outcomes. Post-appointment surveys can also provide a powerful way to identify patient expectations.

Whether it simply involves listening to a bit of constructive criticism or results in identifying potential areas for improvement within the office, assessing patient reactions can be incredibly valuable, even if they are sometimes tough to hear. Dentists who capitalize on these opportunities and learn what areas of the practice are running smoothly and what areas may need further focus will continually grow. Ultimately, this kind of feedback loop can help to reduce patient turnover, increase recall, and boost production while also differentiating the office from the competition and creating a more patient-centric practice for the long-term future.

About the Author

Naomi Cooper is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Doctor Distillery and the president and founder of Minoa Marketing.

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