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Patient handoff: Doing it right

May 7, 2023
Don't let your patients bounce around between team members. Patients notice the details, and Dr. Roger Levin says they'll appreciate feeling at ease as they move through your office.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, CEO and Founder, Levin Group

The patient experience is a critical aspect of practice success. Any practice that would like to improve its overall customer service should think about the almost invisible experiences that patients go through while they’re in your office. It’s easy to talk about the first phone call, meeting the doctor, or a formal case presentation. Those are major elements of practice success.

But there are also elements that are smaller but just as, if not more, important. One of these is handing off a patient between team members. 

How to hand off a patient

Let’s look at a series of handoffs that regularly take place in a dental practice. All patients go through a series of steps within a practice, but let’s consider new patients. They contact the office and speak to the front desk person for an appointment. Next, they come into the office where they might meet a different front desk person. Then the front desk person hands them off to a clinical assistant who gives them treatment and introduces them to the doctor. Finally, the clinical assistant takes the patient back to a front desk person, who may be different from anyone else the patient has met in the office. Each of these interactions represents the handoff of a patient. In many cases they involve short statements such as, “Sally will take you back,” or “It was nice to see you today.” While there is nothing terrible about these remarks, they do not represent five-star customer service or a really great handoff.

You might also want to read: How ignoring patient complaints can hurt your practice

3 great ways to hand off a patient

Make an introduction. Acknowledge each staff member by name, such as “This is Sally, one of our clinical assistants,” or “Mark is going to take care of you at the front desk.”

Say something positive or value-based about the person. A front desk person could say, “This is Sally. She will be your clinical assistant today and she’ll take great care of you.” This statement is simple but powerful. Dental patients want to be taken care of. The front desk person can reinforce this, and this will display confidence. Try to establish a short script for every handoff that includes a value-based statement for each team member.

Say something positive to the patient. When a front desk person hands off a patient to a clinical assistant, the assistant might say, “Mrs. Smith, it’s really nice to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to your visit.” Whatever you say, just make sure it’s positive and specific to the patient. Remember, by using the patient’s name you’ve already individualized the conversation.

Think of the handoff of a patient as the spaces between the notes of a musical masterpiece. We often fail to think about it and don’t realize that people notice. But the handoff of patients can be a major contributor to building a five-star customer service office. Best of all, it’s just really nice to do.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2021 and updated regularly

About the Author

Roger P. Levin, DDS | CEO and Founder, Levin Group

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm. Founded in 1985, Levin Group has worked with over 30,000 dental practices. Dr. Levin is a sought-after speakers in dentistry and is a leading authority on dental practice success and sustainable growth. Through extensive research and cutting-edge innovation, Dr. Levin is a recognized expert on propelling practices into the top 10%. He has authored 65 books and over 4,000 articles on dental practice management and marketing.

Dr. Levin sits on the editorial board of five dental publications and has been named as one of the Leaders in Dentistry by Dentistry Today magazine for the last 15 years. He was recently named one of the 32 Most Influential People in Dentistry by Incisal Edge magazine and voted Best Dental Consultant by the readers of Drbicuspid.com. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Time magazine, and is the creator of the Levin Group Tip of the Day,which has over 30,000 subscribers.

To contact Dr. Levin, visit levingroup.com or email [email protected].

Updated March 7, 2019