If someone had told me three years ago that we would not be welcoming patients into our reception area before appointments, instead making them sit in their car until we escort them in, I would have said they were crazy.
I have been stressing the importance of the reception area since the beginning of my speaking career in dentistry. I’ve worked very hard to change the perception of this area being a “waiting room” and calling it instead a “reception area.” Words do matter, and this is where we should welcome patients, make them feel comfortable, and take the time to talk with them prior to leading them back for their appointment.
This has long been something I’ve felt strongly about, but then 2020 happened, and now we tell patients to stay out, wait in their car, wear a mask, stay six feet away from us, and then get out as soon as they can when their appointment is over. Wow, what a change.
Well, we did it! We made the change. We had to, after all. There were no other options, and now here we sit: slowly coming out of the pandemic and moving back toward normal. I know for many, there is a desire to get back to the way things were. As much as I agree, I suggest that before we fully open our offices back up, we take a little time to decide what that means now after everything we’ve been through. Let’s take a few minutes to reflect and learn from all of this.
One thing we’ve learned is that change can be good, and it’s ultimately inevitable. There are many offices where, prior to 2020, change was hard and the “way we’ve always done it” prevailed as part of the culture. Well, that attitude no longer exists since everyone was forced to learn how to change quickly in order to get through this past year. Take a moment to pat yourself and your team on the back and acknowledge that you did it! You are still standing. There are many businesses, unfortunately, that cannot say the same.
Second, now that we are piecing our offices back together, let’s make sure we don’t just go back to old habits because it’s the easy thing to do. This is the perfect opportunity to identify areas of the practice that could use some improvement.
In this article, I am going to address a few specific things that relate to the reception area. Apart from all of the personal protective equipment (PPE) we are wearing to see patients during this time, the patient check-in and check-out processes have seen the most changes.
Keep the enthusiasm going
Over the past year, we lost the close interaction with people that many of us took for granted before. Greeting someone with a handshake and a smile. That all went away, but now we can welcome it back in a bigger and better way. When the time is right and we can safely go mask-less and shake hands again, have the team make the most of that feeling of excitement and relief. Keep this going long after the initial excitement has worn off. Make sure that your team holds onto the energy we are about to feel when things start to get back to normal. Always let patients know that you’re excited to see them with a handshake and a smile.
Next, make sure your reception area is a place patients want to be and feel comfortable. They’ve been forced to quarantine in their cars, and it’s time to welcome them back into our offices. Look for ways to make reception fresher, calmer, and more inviting. Possibly take a few hours to add a new coat of paint, update the furniture, add a coffee area, freshen the magazines, and eliminate the news playing on the television. This is the time to make patients’ first impression of the office a great one.
Remove the reminders
I am fearful that some of the businesses we visit in our everyday lives will keep reminders of COVID around for a very long time. The stickers on the ground to remind us to socially distance from others. The barriers that no longer protect us from anything, but are up to show compliance. One day, these will no longer be needed in our daily operations, so don’t let them remain. Look for ways, when you are ready, to remove the things that no longer make sense and will just begin to look ratty over time. Don’t get so used to them that you forget they are there.
Keep your staff and patients informed
Finally, recognize that there are no hard and fast rules for how this all plays out. The most important thing to do during this migration back to the new normal is to keep your team and your patients abreast of the ways in which your practice is working to keep them comfortable and safe.
Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM, is an award-winning international speaker and the founder of Front Office Rocks, a virtual training platform for dental teams that is the leader in dental front office solutions and training. An accomplished recruiting and management coach and renowned keynote speaker, Nelson is the best-selling author of Step Away from the Drill and Hiring Without Hesitation: A How-To for Small Business Success. She has been the recipient of numerous public speaking awards and one of Dental Products Report’s Top 25 Women in Dentistry.