Good staff communication with new patients is vital

When new patients call a practice, it is typically with the hope of identifying their new dentist. They want someone who is confident and competent guiding them through their first appointment, explaining benefits and framing their next appointment effectively. Most likely, they are still looking for a dentist because they have not found an office that has been able to accomplish this. When it comes to communication, dentists and their staff need to be ready to confidently anticipate and manage the patient's expectations, according to CDA Practice Advisor Sarah Gargani.

"Preparing for new patient calls to your practice starts long before you pick up the phone. Your team needs to be knowledgeable, capable and ready to attract new patients," Gargani said. "Most likely, this patient has found you through a personal referral or through their insurance and one of the first questions patients often asks is, 'Do you take my dental insurance?'"

Gargani, who has more than 12 years of experience working with multiple practices both large and small, and has knowledge with financial analysis and human resources practices, said it is essential for dentists to know how their team is responding to a question like this.

"If the response is anything other than, 'We take all PPO insurances,' you may be starting out on the wrong foot. It is important that your prospective patient is aware that you want them in your practice and are capable of managing their benefits with ease," Gargani said. "They may then ask if you are a contracted or preferred provider, and if you are, great. If not, it needs to be clear that you serve many patients with their insurance and are able to bill for them. "

After the initial details are out of the way and the patient is ready to book their appointment, the most important part of the call begins.  Gargani said the team should know the dentist's schedule and the next available opening. The staff member taking the call is responsible for determining the type of visit the patient wants and directing them to the soonest opening.

Dentists should ask themselves these questions about their team when they are speaking to new patients on the phone:

  • Do they sound engaging and happy? 
  • Do they ask questions about the patient?
  • Do they ask how the patient heard about the practice?
  • Do they ask when the last time they saw a dentist was?
  • Are they asking them what they hope to achieve during their visit with the dentist?
  • Do they ask if treatment makes them anxious?
  • Do they ask if there is anything they feel the dentist needs to know about them before being seen?

"Your team not only has to navigate details for the patient visit, they have to be prepared to market you as the dentist," Gargani said.

Once an appointment has been made, the dental team should set clear expectations about the visit and collect insurance information in advance to prepare ahead of time. Sending new patient paperwork or letting them know how early they need to arrive to complete it is important as well. 

"Give them an idea of what their first visit will entail; how long it will take, who they will be seeing (if known), the cost, etc. If questions about finances arise, it is critical that your team is very comfortable and confident with what your financial policies are and how they can make them work for the patient in the future," Gargani said.

This interaction is one of the most influential points of contact this patient will have with the practice. If it is negative, or the patient feels like their needs are not met, they may never come in, and if they do, they will already be skeptical.

"A positive experience sets the tone and as they say, you never get another chance to make a first impression," Gargani said.

After the patient's first visit, there are several ways to follow up.

"The most effective practices make the process personal," Gargani said.
"There is something very powerful about a quick phone call or a hand-written note from the dentist. Whatever avenues you choose, make it personal. A happy patient is the best referral source you will find.
In the end, communication is the gateway to developing long-lasting and trusting relationships with patients for years to come." 

For more tips on patient communication, visit cda.org/practicesupport.

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