Missed opportunities too common in dental offices

When it comes to missed opportunities in small businesses, one cannot blame small business owners if, as the saying goes, “they don’t know what they don’t know.”

When the small business owner is a dentist, a couple of common areas of missed opportunity include new patient experience and retention of active patients. Here are a few tips for avoiding these missed opportunities.

New patient experience

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Having the dental team trained to “roll out the red carpet” for a new patient is a missed opportunity in most dental practices. It all starts with the initial phone call: Someone who has never been to the practice needs to be guided through the information gathering process by a warm, friendly and knowledgeable voice. This simple process alone can set the practice and the new patient up for success and a long-lasting relationship that brings referrals for family and friends if done properly.

Offices that answer the phone with “dental office” fail to make a good first impression. The patient on the other end of the line should feel welcomed and at ease about making an appointment. CDA Practice Advisor Shaun Pryor, RDA, recommends that a greeting (from whomever answers the phone, whether front- or back-office staff) be upbeat and exude positive energy. “Always answer the phone with a smile on your face — you can hear that smile in your voice.” Pryor says, adding that “tone is key.” In addition, the call should be framed so the patient is aware of all the expectations around paperwork, policies and timing for his or her first appointment. This also helps ensure that the office is meeting all the patients’ needs in that first appointment.

Patient retention

Taking steps to retain active patients is another common missed opportunity. Once the dental team has the new patient in the office, it’s important to not let the patient slip through the cracks. In the fast-paced world that we all live in today, it is easy for people to let oral health take a back seat on their priority list. The dental team should not allow this to happen. If it is not current policy to make a return reservation for patients before they leave the office, this is a huge missed opportunity. Pryor calls this “leaving the back door wide open.”

A best practice is to pick a day and time similar to the patient’s current appointment time and make a reservation for the next appointment six months (or at the appropriate time interval) out. Chances are good that if the patient was able to be in the dental office “today,” on a Tuesday at 10 a.m., they will be able to do the same thing in six months. Dental offices do not want to get into a long back and forth between the patient’s and practice’s calendars and schedules. Instead, guide patients toward that day and time and let the patient know they have the option of calling the office to change the day and time if need be.

Unless staff sees the patient add the reservation into a phone or other calendar at the desk, the patient should always receive a card with the new reservation. This is also a good time to remind patients of the office’s confirmation protocol and cancellation policy — before they leave. This is one of the first steps toward building a long-term relationship with patients. If the practice does not give the patient another date as to when the practice and patient will see each other again in the future, it is as if practice is “breaking up” with the patient or allowing the patient to walk out the back door and break up with the practice. Either way, the scenario is not good for the relationship or the practice.

There is always going to be an exception to the rule. A few patients will not be able to commit to making their next reservation. Make sure a system is in place to both track this list of patients and follow-up with them. “We like retention to be in a healthy range of 75-80 percent of active patients that have been in the practice within the last 18 months,” Pryor said. Utilize the practice management system to generate reports on patients with no future reservations in the office. Give that group of patients a gentle reminder that the practice would like to see them in the office again sometime soon; technology can be leveraged to streamline this task.

Practices that are using a patient communication software or service should sure the message they are sending says what they want it to say. Ask the patient to verbally respond to the automated message. That way, the practice has some human contact and an opportunity to rebuild that relationship by making a new “date” with an old friend.

For patient management resources, visit cda.org/news-events and cda.org/resources.

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