8 steps for converting "Can't stand the pain patients" to "Forever patients"

May 4, 2010

By Cathy Jameson

It was the oil crisis of the 1980s and we were practicing in a community where many believed that you go to the dentist when “you can’t stand the pain any longer.” Money was tight; times were tough. Many of you are facing economic challenges or even just stiff competition. Some of you aren’t. Regardless of the stress or strain you are or aren’t feeling, these eight steps for converting emergency patients into forever patients will help you thrive. Dr. John Jameson’s team implemented these concepts consistently to convert emergency patients into “forever” patients.

Make a commitment to change your practice for the better. Just as Dr. John Jameson went against all odds and decided that he would create a comprehensive type of restorative and cosmetic practice in rural Oklahoma – and then did it – you can make a decision to have the practice of your dreams – and then do it! These eight steps can help you move in that direction.

Convert “can’t stand the pain” emergency patients into long-term “forever” patients:
1. See the patient the day he or she calls. Make sure the business administrator gets the necessary information upon receiving the call.

2. Provide some type of care the first time the person is seen. For the most part, this will be palliative treatment. Make sure the patient is comfortable before he or she leaves your office; provide medication when appropriate.

3. Inform the patient of your practice’s philosophy right from the beginning. Place a statement of mission, in the practice brochure, in the hands of all new patients either before they come in or as they enter. In addition, ensure that all members of the dental team are ready to talk about oral health for a lifetime.

4. Don’t ask patients to make a decision while they are delirious. “I prepare a patient to think when they are not in pain,” Dr. Jameson says.

5. Schedule a comprehensive evaluation between the initial, palliative treatment and the final treatment.

6. Help the patient understand that one tooth is related to other teeth, the quadrant, the arch, the whole mouth — and total health. Patients must be taught to look beyond the immediate issue of their pain to the long-term effects of each and every treatment.

7. Use an intraoral camera or digital camera to show each patient his or her own, unique needs and the options for and benefits of treatment.

8. Let the patient know he or she doesn’t have to have another emergency. Break the “if all else fails, go to the dentist” pattern. Invite them to think through how easy your practice is to visit and how positive their experience has been. Ask for feedback and, as if they’ve just rehearsed for your walking advertisement, tell them about your referral program.

Treatment commitment
Just as with any system of dental practice, the idea of converting emergency patients into forever patients takes time and commitment from every member of your team. It cannot fall on the shoulders of the doctor alone.

The philosophy of and belief in total health and total care must infiltrate every fiber of your practice. It must be at the heart of every member of your team.

Take a close look at these eight steps. They work. Dr. Jameson’s practice is living proof of it. Does every person convert to the philosophy? No. But the vast majority does. Dr. Jameson says most of his full-mouth restoration cases came in initially as emergencies. These people are amazed a dentist takes the time to teach them a better way. Many of them had a great deal of necessary dentistry. When these patients see the possibilities, and when they realize there are dentists out there who do more than “jerk that thing out of there,” most of them respond positively.

Give your patients a chance at what they deserve. Give yourself the opportunity to grow. Work as a team to convert your emergencies to “forever” patients. The results will be both financially and personally rewarding.

Cathy is founder and CEO of Jameson Management, Inc., improving the lives of dentists through comprehensive coaching. For more information, visit www.JamesonManagement.com or call (877) 369-5558.