by Samad Syed
Dental practices must not forget that the patient experience is a 360-degree journey. Beyond the traditional face-to-face time spent with the dentist and dental hygienist, patients absorb all interactions before, during, and after their visit. Dentists can create a competitive advantage over others in their market by cultivating a positive patient experience across every interaction, in and out of the office.
1. Simplify intake processes
Dental practices need to consider intake processes as the real first impression—it’s an oversight to think that you make the first impression when patients initially meet you. If a patient’s first experience is filling out an envelope an inch deep of paperwork when they arrive, it may not sit too well with them. When intake processes—scheduling, health history, medical releases, insurance verification, and other forms—are automated through digitization, patients feel that they’ve received a 5-star experience. Office automation sets the tone that the dental practice is on the leading edge of technology, and also says “we value your time” and “we want to make this as easy and convenient as possible for you.” In short, that creates happy, loyal patients. This is where many patients, especially new ones, shape their first impression of the dental practice and formulate whether they'll be a returning patient.
The DOSETM Model, developed from years of researching dental intake processes, has proven to be an effective digital strategy that yields real results in establishing the perfect patient experience. DOSE stands for Digitize, Organize, Security, and Efficiency; each element serving a critical role for a successful transformation.
Digitize: Digital intake processes streamline office operations placing emphasis on speed, accuracy, and convenience. Paperless systems eliminate the headaches of illegible handwriting, missing signatures, lost documents, and manual data entry errors. Online forms convert a time-consuming check-in process into a simplified, efficient one.
Organize: Organizing front desk operations creates a clutter-free, professional office tailored to tech-savvy clients who want to invest their time and money in practices that care enough about patient satisfaction to adopt advanced technology.
Security: Ensuring security of patient data, and adherence to HIPAA guidelines are essentials that every dental practice must invest in. mConsent’s online intake solutions are fully secured with end-to-end encryption and are 100% HIPAA compliant.
Efficiency: Efficiency lies at the core of profitability. Dental practices see results fast by investing in tools proven to speed up the check-in and check-out process. Once the headaches of wait times are eliminated, patient satisfaction soars.
The DOSE Model has been tested and tried by thousands, with the end results of faster intake processes, improved productivity, increased patient satisfaction, and happier staff.
Additionally, a recent McKinsey research report examining telehealth post-COVID found that between 40 and 60 percent of consumers express interest in a set of broader virtual health solutions, such as a “digital front door.”
Digitizing intake processes improves the accuracy of information on forms, eliminates waiting room time, and reduces the spread of viral transmissions. It also gives patients flexibility to fill out forms at home, on their own time, ahead of their appointment. Studies have shown that 65% of patients prefer to complete paperwork at home before their appointments. Streamlining this process allows patients to reduce the amount of time needed off from work for an in-person appointment.
Completing forms is the most time-heavy aspect of a traditional dental appointment and this markedly impacts a patient’s experience. Dental practices wanting to give patients an unforgettable experience, do so by minimizing paperwork and creating more efficient practices.
2. Create ambiance that sets patients at ease
In-office interaction typically begins the moment a patient crosses into the office threshold. Setting the tone for a comforting and cheery entrance with welcoming decor can be a great start in channeling positive vibes to patients. Open communication via signage about office guidelines regarding COVID-19, such as mandatory face masks and your social distancing policy, help avoid confusion.
Upscaling the waiting room into a relaxing atmosphere creates a sense of security and ease in patients. Affordable modern, clean-lined furnishings can be accommodating and lend a sense of serenity, with spa-like elements such as calming colors, pleasing landscape paintings, decorative pillows, fountains, floral arrangements, and other inviting elements.
Equally important to a patient's comfort level in the waiting room is to schedule patients with enough of a time gap to avoid the feeling of overcrowding. The last thing patients want is to walk in and feel a sense of dread that the wait will be long, or that they are in a high-risk area for viral transmission. Patients are forever changed by the pandemic, both in their expectation that digital conveniences are now the norm, and also that they will no longer have to wait in a crowded waiting room. These are critical factors that can make or break a patient’s decision on whether to become a returning patient or seek dental care elsewhere. Feeling that your waiting area is a pleasant, comfortable atmosphere helps set the stage for a positive mindset before their next step along the journey.
3. Provide a welcoming chairside experience
Once shown to their chair by the dental hygienist, patients expect to settle in to an exam room that feels as private as possible (frosted glass walls can provide privacy and still feel light and open) so they feel safe and supported during their appointment. Televisions overhead can also help distract patients if they’re anxious during a procedure. The chairside experience is the most important element of a patient’s interactions at a dental practice. This is what they’ll remember more than anything and what will impact their perception of the practice altogether. Hygienists and dentists can ensure a truly memorable experience by communicating with positive body language, lighthearted communication throughout the appointment, and friendly conversations about common topics unrelated to the appointment itself.
One of the best ways to set patients at ease during an appointment is to explain each step of a procedure so there’s no ambiguity in what to expect. For extremely nervous patients, this could even mean that hygienists or dentists take the extra time to explain procedures in a way that soothes a patient’s fears. Continuous comforting communication during this process keeps the patient’s mind focused on something positive to ensure a smoother exam.
4. Communication is the foundation of patient trust and confidence
Solid dentist-patient communication is at the heart of positive patient experiences. Providing proper procedures and a supportive environment are important for building trust. Understanding a bit of patient psychology can go a long way. Patients prefer dentists that demonstrate understanding, eye contact, and emotional intelligence. Patients love talking about their own stories; listening and responding with compassion will win them over. Dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants who engage patients with the spirit of “we’re in this together" and demonstrate their expertise, compassion, and capacity to accurately diagnose and treat a problem make patients feel secure and cared for.
As well, when it comes to discussing treatment plans, most patients prefer to have that information communicated directly by a dentist instead of a dental assistant.
Having that direct interaction allows the patient to get all of their questions answered and ensures they fully understand the cost and time commitment involved. Competence in properly explaining treatment plans and answering patients’ questions remarkably affects follow-through rates and moves the patient closer to the trust and confidence needed for decision-making and signing a treatment plan agreement during the visit. Utilizing new communication tools in the dental field, such as virtual consults, has also proven to be instrumental for both patients and doctors to discuss treatment options with minimal time expenditure. Providing patients with additional resources for them to better understand their condition/treatment via brochures, blogs, social media, and website information is another multichannel communication approach patients today have come to expect.
5. Set staff up for success
Staff interactions greatly affect a patient’s experience and play a role in shaping their impression of a practice. All dental practice owners should invest in proper staff training and regularly assess team members to determine if they need further training. Most staff issues can be solved with proper training and clear expectations around company policies and procedures. This is especially important for front desk staff because they’re often the first person a patient will interact with. Front desk receptionists play a primary role in displaying professionalism to clients over the phone and in-person; most negative patient reviews arise from front desk miscommunications. Practice owners or leaders should carefully select a positive and courteous staff member to run the front desk, and continuously seek feedback from patients on their front desk experience so corrections can be made immediately before a dental practice’s reputation is soiled.
Providing team members with advanced digital technology is ultimately the front door to maximizing front desk efficiency and streamlining workflows. This is the key to reducing staff workload, allowing them to maintain positive energy throughout the day and to consistently provide a positive patient experience.
Without a doubt, a patient’s experience at the office is the most important measure of success for any dental practice. The five tenets of a positive patient experience provide guideposts for long-term practice success, and direct providers on how to stay on track with practice goals.
Samad Syed is the CEO/founder of SRS Web Solutions Inc. and the expert behind the revolutionary health-care automation systems mConsent and Caretap. He has successfully streamlined processes for countless health-care professionals, reaching over 3 million patients. He received his Masters in Engineering from Wayne State University and his MBA from Indiana University. Syed is passionate about innovating solutions to streamline operations for health-care professionals, enabling them to provide better patient care without the hassles of paperwork.