If any business needed an image makeover, it would be dentistry. Yes, there have been many improvements to patient care and comfort, but we still have a legacy of being a place of pain and an expense that is not appreciated. People are influenced by the dominant narrative that they hear about dentistry through family members, friends, and others.
The media has not been kind either; think of a film where a dentist was the main character, was the dentist a good guy? Not in any movie I have seen. For example, “Marathon Man”, the most evil dentist does a root canal without anesthetic to torture a man, or how about, “Blue Jasmine”, a critically acclaimed film by Woody Allen that portrays a dentist as a sexual predator and lastly the Disney film, “Finding Nemo”, where the dentist is described as a frightening being who acts erratically and sadistically.
Disney also made educational films for schools about proper dental hygiene and the importance of maintaining healthy teeth, but few people know this fact. The list of movies featuring dentist characters is quite long, but you will be challenged to find a film that depicts dentists as anything other than a caricature of a sadistic buffoon.
Dentistry is a respected profession
Despite the movie mania towards dentists, dentistry is a highly respected profession because most dentists are trusted, responsible members of their communities. Dentistry is a service-oriented profession and attracts altruistic and caring types of people. Dentistry is physically stressful to hands, arms, back, and shoulders, and psychologically demanding because patients have fears and resistance to the recommended care. Most patients don't want to be in the office and as soon as they arrive are watching the clock until they get to leave.
Patient perception is everything, and if you create an atmosphere of dread, then that is what the patient will see, hear, and feel. Dental offices that smell like chemicals are cluttered with old magazines, dead plants, worn out welcome mats and walls of tattered paper charts are as appealing as a restroom at a bus stop.
People don’t like to go to the dentist unless there is a motivator bigger than their fears. The most common motivator is pain, next is stained teeth and bleeding gums. Receiving a warm and welcoming greeting is one of the most meaningful gifts a patient can get when they cross the threshold into the office. People who love people and care about people will calm the fears of the most terrified patient.
A successful dental practice understands the patients’ needs and wants and strives to provide that whatever it costs.
Desire to create a successful dental practice/clinic where patients want to spend their time and money? Consider these traits beyond excellent clinical skills:
Develop the “gift for gab
Most dentists by nature are introverted in personality and scientists in thought. One of the most successful dentists that I knew would come into the office singing and had a tasteful, funny joke of the day. He loved people and the dental profession, and his practice was profitable and happy every day. Get to know your patients as people with their own set of concerns, families, work, and health issues. Take the time to actively listen when patients speak.
Develop strong leadership skills
Share your practice vision with your team. Communicating openly and honestly with your staff will create a smooth synergistic team. Ask your team for their ideas about improving the patient experience and making dental systems more efficient and cost-effective.
Develop skills as an effective communicator
Many dentists have struggled with being able to communicate on the level of the patient. Using dental jargon and dental terminology can quickly disconnect the patient because they must be able to understand and visualize what the treatment will do to their teeth. Drawing pictures and offering visual examples along with the simplified explanation, will go a long way to patient acceptance. Intra-oral camera photos and 3D computer imagery helps to demonstrate the need for services.
Develop patience and flexibility
People are not all the same, so trying to put rules on all can be frustrating. The schedule that you see in the morning may look completely different as the day wears on. Coming up to the front desk and demanding to know why a patient didn’t show up when they were confirmed will only make all involved feel bad and spill out into the reception room where people who did show up feel the tension.
Develop a well-trained, professional team with a great sense for service
Your business staff must be able to present treatment plans and offer financing options with a smile on their face. Ongoing continuing education for your team about patient care, infection control, basic life support, HIPAA, and OSHA help to build a knowledgeable team. Tell your patients about the training and skills of your team to build trust and acceptance. If you need help finding good people try Clouddentistry.com where you can connect with quality professionals without the hassle of an expensive third party such as a temp agency.
Design your office to feel like an oasis of comfort
Try a diffuser with lemon or orange essential oils. Fresh flowers weekly are great for patients and the team. A mounted screen playing beautiful scenery and soft music is calming. WIFI and places to connect electronic devices such as tablets and laptops (great for working people). Movies, music and massage chairs have worked for many practices too.
Develop a paperless practice
In today's climate of identity theft, no one wants personal, private information in a paper chart on the wall in your office. The computer software programs of today are highly sophisticated and can store vast amounts of data efficiently and in an organized easy to retrieve fashion. Patients can fill out forms online or on a tablet in your office.