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Seven questions every dental practice owner should ask themselves

Now more than ever, probably the biggest concern for dentists in practice is, “do I have enough patients?” Practice management consultants will focus on the numbers of new patients, the average production garnered from each and whether the patient returns to the practice or not (retention).

Removing the attention of the patient to the production numbers is the reason practices struggle. The focus on creating a “wow” or exceptional patient experience is lost in the minutia of numbers.

Why does the patient pick me?

What is your brand? What makes you unique? Whether you know it or not, your practice is building a brand.  A brand is a product or service that distinguishes you publicly from others. How you want to be perceived publicly is determined by all that you do to interact with patients and the community.  Let’s say part of your brand is a “no wait” policy. You have perfected your scheduling and staffing to ensure patients do not wait more than five minutes to be seated. You can take that to the bank because “having to wait” is one of the biggest reasons patients leave their dentist.  Studies show that patients appreciate the evening postoperative call. The dentist calling to check on the welfare of the patient and to answer any questions is a memorable connection.

Is my practice pain-free?

Patients hate dentistry because of pain and they judge you by the amount they feel in your practice. The days of dentistry being “a little shop of horrors” is moving into the past. Do you offer options to patients that make their visits as “pain-free” as possible?  Newer technology like The Wand(that controls pressure and flow of anesthesia), and dental lasers make dentistry a less painful ordeal. Has your practice embraced the newest technology to make your patients have the best experience possible?

 Check with your dental supply companies for the latest in pain management products.   Do you tell patients about why you have chosen the materials or methods to treat their special situation?  Make the patient feel unique and they, in turn, will think you are special.

Am i making the best impression on the phone?

The person that answers the phone sets the stage to practice profits.  The “face of the practice” and the first point of contact is critical to practice reputation and growth.

First impressions are lasting in memory and help formulate decisions to buy or to pass on by.  A patient on the phone or a prospective new patient must have the entire attention of the dental receptionist. Building rapport in the first few seconds with a friendly, calm and helpful demeanor is paramount.  The people answering the phone must be trained to convert a call into an appointment. A person calling a dental office is in a decision mode. Providing the right information in a confident, knowledgeable fashion will secure appointments quickly.  Formal front office staff training to learn advanced phone communication technique is necessary and worth the investment. 

Do i ask my patients for referrals?

Sometimes the perception of being busy in the dental office has a negative effect on referrals. If you appear too busy the patient may think that you don’t want any new patients.  Word of mouth referrals has always built the best practices. Give patients a perk for a referral like a gift card to a local coffee shop or restaurant. Encourage them to post a Yelp or Google review. Ask your patients what they like most about your practice and why they chose to return.  Not a cold survey but a personal question in a friendly way, such as, “We want to continue to provide the best service to you so your opinion matters to us.”

Read: How to hire a dentist >>

Are my dental employees working in a team?

Developing the most valuable asset, your team is a commitment to making your practice profitable.  The revolving door of turnover in dental practices has cost even the best dentists thousands of dollars. Costs to train new people, errors made by new untrained people, and low morale when someone leaves can be managed when the proper attention is given to the reasons workers quit.

If today's workplace does not offer the right connections, career growth, salary, benefits, and culture, employees leave for greener pastures. Patients feel the tension in the practice and some cancel the relationship because they no longer trust the situation. 

Patients form relationships of trust with the entire team, not just the dentist.  Some patients may leave the practice to follow their favorite hygienist to her new job. Or to follow the Dental Office Manager who treated their financial situation with sensitivity and understanding.  It is imperative that the transition from the former employee to the new employee be treated with care to ensure the patients' acceptance of the change.

Have i created a culture of caring and comfort?

People don’t return to dental practices for the same reasons they don’t return to restaurants.  The physical appeal of the entrance, the feeling of comfort in the reception area, the cleanliness of the restrooms and the overall evidence of quality evident before any services or products are provided. 

These are all components of basic marketing that cost very little to implement.  Patients may not comprehend the value of the treatment they receive but they always remember how the experience made them feel.

Do i make my patients feel special?

Sometimes it is the little things that keep patients coming back time and time again, year after year.  A friendly greeting when they arrive and a sincere goodbye when they leave is easy to do. Giving patients what they want by providing their choice in communication is a must. 

 If your practice has a mixture of generations such as traditionalists, baby boomers, gen-X'ers and millennials, it is wise to show appreciation to all, not just the majority. If you employ a patient contact system you are able to connect with your patients at any time during the day automatically.  However, the generation of retired folks may not use computers so they appreciate a postcard, letter or phone call. Holiday cards and newsletters help you stay connected in a positive way.  

Remembering little personal details about your special patients can make them feel appreciated, such as, Mrs. Green loves to garden so you bring her a new plant. Mrs. Smith loves to cook and you bring her a new recipe to try.  It isn’t difficult to cancel an appointment but it is very hard to break a relationship. Patients are more apt to keep their scheduled appointments if they feel that someone would notice and would care. 

Make the patients’ experience the focus of all your practice goals and growth and prosperity will follow.

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