Convenience, honesty, and online reviews ... some of the things your dental patients want

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In a newly released whitepaper, 1-800-DENTIST has asked more than 500 individuals about their attitudes toward dentists and dentistry. This whitepaper is designed to provide some definitive answers to some of the most important questions facing dentists today, including:

• What do dental patients in 2013 want and expect from their dentists?
• How do patients go about selecting a new dentist?
• What factors lead to successful reappointing?

Below are three of the major findings of this survey (there are seven in the full whitepaper), along with recommendations on how you can best use this information to increase production and profitability at your practice. To request the full whitepaper, please call (855) 235-7034 or visit www.1800dentist.com/WhatDentalPatientsWant.

#1 PATIENTS WANT A CLEAR, HONEST CONVERSATION ABOUT COST
Not surprisingly, the survey confirmed one widely held view of dentistry — 90% of patients surveyed said, “dental work is expensive.” However, follow-up questions revealed that perceived high fees, though a concern, are not an insurmountable obstacle to dentists interested in growing their patient base. A resounding 91% of patients said that they are more likely to continue patronizing dentists who engage in an honest, upfront conversation about costs. Interestingly, the survey also found that the dental community’s unwillingness to discuss fees upfront is ranked as one of the biggest obstacles patients face when trying to find a new dentist.

Another important factor for patients is a clear explanation of the difference between required and optional treatment. This was cited as one of the primary reasons patients return to the same dentist for additional treatment. The significance of this finding is magnified by the fact that 31% of respondents believe dentists try to sell them “unnecessary things.”

Recommendations
As you know, most patients have not budgeted for comprehensive dentistry and are often surprised to learn what care will cost. You can improve the likelihood of treatment plan acceptance if you first determine the patient’s readiness to accept comprehensive care, and avoid over-presenting to those who are less prepared to hear what “optimal” dental health will ultimately entail. Also be aware that over 87% of patients report preferring dentists who take their financial concerns into consideration. With that in mind, we recommend that you:
• Communicate the long-term VALUE before discussing the price.
Always discuss cost upfront, before beginning treatment.
• Avoid over-presenting during the first appointment. Establish trust first; then broaden the conversation to include the ideal long-term treatment plan.
• Offer treatment options (i.e. essential care vs. optimal care).

#2 PATIENTS WANT DENTISTS TO BE CONVENIENT
The survey revealed that dental practices can be their own worst enemy when it comes to new patient acquisition. When asked, 74% of patients said the “ability to take appointments right away” plays a decisive role in their decision to choose a dentist. Yet, only 22% of dental practices actually appoint new patients within 48 hours of their first call. Not surprisingly, a significant percentage of patients complain of having difficulty finding a dentist who can see them within a reasonable timeframe.

Today’s busy patients demand convenience and accessibility. Extended office hours during the week are important to 57% of those surveyed. Nearly half of patients look for dentists offering weekend hours. Online appointment requests have emerged as the new must-have feature on dental websites.

Recommendations
There are many things dentists can do on the convenience front to make their practice more attractive to new and returning patients, the most important of which is to always see a new patient within 48 hours of their initial call. According to an internal 1-800-DENTIST study of real patient behavior, no-show rates rise exponentially for every day it takes to get them into the office. Furthermore, appointing same- or next-day could improve show-up rates in the average practice by 56%! Other recommendations include:
• Start offering same-day or next-day scheduling options to all your new patients. Leave room in your schedule to fit them in right before lunch, etc.
• Offer a free office tour or just a 10-minute exam at a minimum if you can’t get new patients in for a full appointment.
• Consider staying open late or opening early one or two days a week – and adding weekend hours.
• Add online appointment requests to your website and Facebook page. 1-800-DENTIST has software solutions than can streamline this process.

#3 PATIENTS WANT TO READ REVIEWS FROM OTHER PATIENTS
One of the most notable trends identified by this survey is the increasingly important role online reviews play in choosing a dentist. In a 2010 survey, 53% of dental patients said that online ratings and reviews influenced their choice of dentist. Today, as the chart above illustrates, that number has shot up to 70%. In fact, patients now say consumer reviews are just important as a dentist’s professional credentials.

It makes sense that growing numbers of people are being influenced by what other patients say about practices online. The survey found that the number one difficulty people have choosing a dentist is that “It’s hard to know the quality of the dentist’s work.” Another major concern is that “It’s hard to know if a dentist is trustworthy.” No wonder nearly half of all patients are now actively consulting online review sites like Yelp when searching for a dentist.

Reviews from other patients lend credibility in the online marketplace. In fact, a recent study shows that 63% of consumers are more likely to patronize a business website if it has ratings and reviews. What’s more, when it comes to quality of service, people are willing to pay up to 99% more for a service with an “excellent” rating than one with merely a “good” rating depending upon the product category.

Recommendations
Clearly, dealing with online reviews should be a top priority of every practice. However, the reality is that online reputation management is one of the top three areas where dental offices concede that too little time is being spent. To remedy this, it should be the job of someone in the practice to regularly visit Google, Yelp and the other sites at least daily, and see if anything new has been posted about your practice. Another good idea is to set up a Google Alert, which will send you an email every time your name is mentioned in a public document. It’s also important to regularly monitor social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for mentions of your practice, as patients may “review” your practice in these forums as well.

Although the work of monitoring and updating your online presence across the Web can be done manually, it can also be compressed into just minutes a day using a service like ReputationMonitor®, from 1-800-DENTIST®. This groundbreaking tool enables you to monitor and interact with your practice’s entire online presence — literally hundreds of review, directory and social sites — from a single screen. Additional recommendations include:
• Post signs in your waiting room and operatories requesting reviews on Facebook, Yelp, Google Places, etc.
• Provide an office iPad or tablet so patients can make Facebook check-ins from your practice.
• Solicit positive reviews from your patients in the office, with automatic surveys, or with custom emails.
• Have a strategy for dealing with negative reviews; step one of which is to always respond quickly and thoughtfully.
• Make sure that positive reviews appear on all of your online locations (e.g. Facebook, your website, etc.)

Note: To see more findings and recommendations, you can request the full whitepaper, by calling (855) 235-7034 or visiting www.1800dentist.com/WhatDentalPatientsWant

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