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Inside Dentistry
February 2020
Volume 16, Issue 2

Something to Look Forward To

Four ways to make your practice more attractive to patients

Naomi Cooper

Think about your favorite restaurant or coffee shop. You likely have many options that are within just a few blocks or, at most, a few miles. What about this particular spot makes you want to keep going back? Is it the exemplary service, the quality of the food and drinks, or the atmosphere? Maybe you have seen them share enticing new menu items on social media, or perhaps they offer a free appetizer on your birthday. It could also be that they are doing something more intangible that has cultivated a sense of belonging or has evoked fond memories within you. Whatever this particular establishment has done, they have earned your loyalty by creating an experience that makes you want to keep coming back.

Dental practices can use these same foundational concepts to build a loyal patient base because, despite what we may often hear, 85% of Americans believe that oral health is extremely important to their overall health.1 In addition, dentists ranked first in a list of health practitioners that Americans want to see more often.1

So, although it is clear that patients understand the need for dental visits, whether it is a result of their schedules, finances, or simply a lack of prioritization, their ability to make and keep an appointment with your practice can still feel hit-or-miss. This, coupled with the fact that most dentists today are finding themselves in a crowded marketplace, simply means that dentists need to find new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition and come up with smart, enticing strategies to keep patients coming back and wanting more of what their practices have to offer.

Here are four proven ways to help you meet and exceed patients' expectations and keep them returning regularly in the future.

1. Modernize Communication

Nothing is more frustrating for patients than the inability to reach their dentist's office on their own terms. Luckily for dentists, there have been recent innovations in front desk technology that make it easier than ever for patients to contact the office at the time they prefer, using the medium that is most convenient for them. Not only do these systems virtually eliminate the need for a dentist's team to spend valuable time leaving voicemails that will likely be unreturned or sending reminder postcards, but research shows that, today, patients actually prefer to communicate with offices electronically. In fact, studies have shown that 58% of consumers view a business in a more positive light when it offers communication via text message.2

This means that every dental practice should consider investing in a solution that offers real-time text messaging straight from the computer at the front desk as well as adding online appointing and even chat features to the website to make sure that the office is always accessible, even when the front desk isn't staffed.

To further enhance communication, remove common barriers that can make it harder for patients to reach you. Be sure that your contact information is up-to-date when a patient or prospective patient searches for your practice online. Specifically, check the accuracy of your Google My Business and Yelp listings. Adding your office location, hours, and website link to your Google and Yelp profiles can help ensure that these important online listings are complete. In addition, keep your practice's website updated with your contact information and address, which should be located on every page and clearly visible.

2. Prioritize the Patient Experience

Although the idea of developing a practice that provides patient-centered care certainly seems like a hot topic these days, this subject's resonance is simply a reflection of each and every patient's need to feel valued and well taken care of before, during, and after his or her appointments. When this happens, patient loyalty skyrocketsand so do patient referrals.

The good news is that there are a host of simple and cost-effective ways to increase the patient-centeredness of your practice to make this patient loyalty magic happen, including offering Wi-Fi in the office and iPads in the operatory to put patients at ease and keeping the practice open later one day a week to help accommodate busy professionals. In addition, be sure to automate patient check-in, keep appointments running on time, and reduce patient wait times by pre-blocking time for emergency cases and new patients. And by all means, move financial conversations to an office where patients can sit, listen, and think, rather than discussing costs and financing when patients are lying belly up and totally vulnerable in the dental chair, doing everything possible to quiet their fight or flight response and struggling to listen to your treatment plan.

3. Make Time for One-on-One Interaction

Many patients have become accustomed to feeling as though they are just another number when seeing a medical doctor; however, dentists have a unique opportunity to pursue more meaningful one-on-one conversations. Patients certainly appreciate modern perks and conveniences, but don't discount the goodwill that you can build during an old-fashioned face-to-face talk.

And as with financial conversations, try to avoid having these kinds of conversations while the patient is still reclined in the dental chair. At the very least, move patients so that they are sitting upright before directly talking with them. And although dental jargon comes naturally to you, it can be confusing, frustrating, and even scary to many patients. Speak to patients in everyday terms to help them better understand and prompt them to ask questions.

In addition, take the time to educate each patient about his or her oral health and your treatment plan, including both "what" you're recommending as well as "why" you're recommending it. The "why" is often more influential to patients than the "what," especially when you're able to link the course of treatment to the patient's desired outcome (eg, an esthetic result, improved function, decreased pain). And when you're discussing any potential issues and treatment recommendations, remember that having 3D images to show the patient on a laptop or tablet device can dramatically improve case acceptance.

4. Offer Something Special

Rather than offering discounts or giveaways, try to provide patients with extra benefits or perks that they know they can't get anywhere else. For example, offer multiple payment options to help them overcome any issues regarding the affordability of treatment. There are several dental industry-centered vendors, such as Quality Dental Plan and Compassionate Finance, that specialize in helping patients afford more care and accept more treatmentwithout adding any additional restrictions, headaches, or fees for practice owners.

Expanding your practice to offer additional services that patients are seeking can also help to get them excited about returning for more treatment. Sleep dentistry, pain-free treatment, same-day restorations, implants, and of course, esthetic dentistry are all practice offerings that patients actively seek out. Plus, an often-overlooked benefit of providing patients with treatments that they want is that it gives them a highly compelling reason to return to undergo the restorative work that they need.

Long-term patients are the lifeblood of the dental practice, and developing a loyal base of active patients requires more than just the provision of high-quality clinical care (although, of course, that's essential). Take the time to offer distinctive services that set yourself, your team, and your practice apart, and you'll keep patients excited about coming back to see you year after year.

References

1. American Dental Association. Survey: more Americans want to visit the dentist. American Dental Association website. https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2018-archive/march/survey-more-americans-want-to-visit-the-dentist. Published March 21, 2018. Accessed July 2, 2019.

2. Flowroute. Flowroute survey finds consumers overwhelmingly prefer SMS to email and voice for business interactions. Flowroute website. https://www.flowroute.com/press-type/flowroute-survey-finds-consumers-overwhelmingly-prefer-sms-to-email-and-voice-for-business-interactions/. Posted December 12, 2016. Accessed July 2, 2019.

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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