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How to lose a patient (and lower online review ratings) in 10 minutes

Dec. 5, 2012
Online feedback provided by previous patients is helping to shape the choices of many prospective patients.

By Michael Mosley
December 5, 2012

In today’s dental world, review sites are only growing in popularity. After all, sites like Yelp, CitySearch and Google are providing patients with a viable outlet to ensure their voices and opinions are heard. Furthermore, online feedback provided by previous patients is also helping to shape the choices of many prospective patients. Just as word of mouth has acted as a referral (or non-referral) for practices in the past, these online review sites spread the word about dentists in this modern age.

However, while this online reviewing trend does present ample potential to benefit and grow a practice, it can also adversely affect a practice. In fact, many dentists find their online reviews inaccurate, unwarranted, or in most cases, a reflection of their basic office management procedures, rather than their actual treatment practices and results. Though incredibly frustrating – nobody wants a negative review based simply on the condition of the carpet in their office – the good news is that many of these low ratings spur from very easily remedied issues, many of which occur within the first 10 minutes of a patient entering the office.

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As a means to help eliminate dental practices’ susceptibility to low review ratings, and in an effort to bolster their overall online reputation, here are the top five ways practices lose a patient (and lower their ratings) and how they can correct the issue.

1. Décor and cleanliness. The majority of dental practices go through many pains to ensure their office is sanitized and adheres to only the highest standards of cleanliness. However, patients are not always aware of this, and an untidy, unkempt, or outdated practice appearance may connote quite another impression.

When a patient enters a practice, especially for the first time, they anticipate a completely hygienic and spotless appearance. Though a practice may in fact be satisfactorily hygienic, it will not be perceived as such if the décor is outdated and rooms are messy or cluttered. Make certain to assess the appearance of your office regularly and make necessary updates where needed. Remember, this is a reflection of the work you do; if your practice seems out of touch, a patient may assume your techniques and procedures are as well.

2. Organization. Following cleanliness and décor, office organization is also crucial to a dental practice’s reputation. For instance, if a returning patient arrives for his or her appointment only to be greeted by an office staff that is frantically trying to recover a lost patient file, it reflects poorly on the office. Missing papers and an overall frenetic or disorganized atmosphere, once again, sets off warning signs for the patient.

To remedy this potential problem, dental practices should make every effort to digitize and streamline their office management practices. For example, electronic patient records ensure vital information is never lost or unrecoverable. Additionally, digitizing appointment systems and even bill pay can greatly work in favor of the office, making for a more streamlined and efficient atmosphere.

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3. The length of the wait. This is a tricky subject for many dental practices, simply because waits are inevitable. Unforeseen circumstances with patients are bound to happen, and bound to set back the schedule. However, there are still many aspects of the “wait time” that can be helped.

Two ways dental practices can reduce and prepare for waits are responsible scheduling and day-of reminders. Firstly, when practices schedule responsibly – taking note of what a patient is being seen for and how long the procedure should take – they reduce the chance of overlapped appointments. Secondly, by enlisting the aid of an automated appointment reminder system, one that doesn’t just remind patients the day before their appointment, but also the day of (we’re talking hours before), a practice can significantly reduce last minute forgetfulness on the patient’s part. After all, it only takes one patient showing up 10 minutes late to set back the entire schedule for the day.

4. Communication. To piggyback on what has already been mentioned about wait times, let’s assume that despite a practice’s best efforts, a patient still must wait. This is not a situation to be ignored! Engaging and communicating with patients builds loyalty by showing you care. Most of the time, politely acknowledging and sympathizing with a patient about the wait goes a long way. This type of friendly communication should be at work from the moment a patient enters the doors to the moment they leave.

Furthermore, it is worthwhile to keep in mind that it’s not only the office staff’s job to be amiable, but this responsibility also falls on the dentist and other dental professionals present. If a patient feels their dental professional is dismissive or in a rush, they are also likely to feel that they do not care about their health. This sort of impression may not only lead to a poor review, but also a lost patient. Instead, make an effort to always be as communicable and friendly as possible. Never pass a patient without a smile or a greeting. Besides, if a patient feels the staff and dentist genuinely care, they are likely to overlook any other missteps that may have occurred.

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5. Office professionalism. Though we can assume a dentist and his or her staff act professionally when speaking directly with a patient, one may be surprised at how often this decorous behavior diminishes the moment the direct exchange has ceased. Though the entire staff of professionals may be a close-knit group outside of the office, inappropriate chitchat, even when it is assumed to be in private, has no place in the office. Whether playfully teasing or discussing personal matters or even another patient, staff should always be aware that they are on stage, so to speak. Acting in an overly casual or candid manner runs practices the risk of potentially offending a patient, and thus dissuading them before they even make it into the examination room.

To avoid such a fatal flaw, be sure to meet with the office staff regularly and stress not only the importance of office mechanics and procedures, but also the import of professional office behavior. Set in place clear-cut rules or a code of conduct so the entire staff is informed as to what is considered appropriate practice behavior and what is not.

Once you have assessed your practice and implemented the necessary changes, it is important to stay engaged with both new and old feedback from patients. Politely respond to negative reviews and let them know you have taken their opinion into consideration and have made adjustments accordingly; invite them to come back and see for themselves. Moreover, do not neglect your positive reviews! Be sure to respond and encourage these satisfactory reviews and express your gratitude. Think of these review sites as an outlet for you to advertise and reflect your practice’s skills and use it to the best of your advantage. As easy as it may be to lose a patient in 10 minutes, it is equally possible to gain one and refer another.

As director of marketing at Smile Reminder, Michael Mosley is keeper of the Smile Reminder brand. His responsibilities include brand awareness, brand messaging, lead generation, and sales enablement. During Michael’s tenure, Smile Reminder has experienced remarkable growth from both within existing vertical markets and focused market expansion efforts. A graduate of the Business School at Arizona State University, Mosley's most important focus is his family and helping others find the same joy he has experienced through child adoption.