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Time to update your new-patient experience

June 23, 2021
The new-patient experience has never lost its importance. Here's how dental practices can make new patients feel valued, despite the chaos of the pandemic.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of compilation articles written by team members of DIY Digital Dental Consulting. The topic of their latest article is how to update the new-patient experience in today’s environment. The pandemic changed everything and adaptation has been mandatory. Here’s their hands-on advice. Read the consultants' first article: Can your practice pass a risk management assessment?

Take time to get to know patients

For some, the word “new" means exciting and filled with possibilities. For others, it implies that dreaded change is coming, and things will have to be done differently. Regardless of how anyone perceived new, our office implemented a mandatory new new-patient experience due to COVID-19.

To alleviate patient fears, we ramped up communication and focused on building trust. We implemented additional safety protocols, a contactless patient experience, and teledentistry, to name a few. Now that we have momentum, more changes will be much easier to integrate.

Upgrading your intake form and your "getting to know you" questionnaire will create an experience that immediately connects you to patients and allows you and the team to be more understanding and effective.

Your first meeting with a new patient is more beneficial if you know a few things before walking into the operatory with them.

• Does the patient know their dental needs?
• Has the patient had a traumatic or unpleasant dental experience?
• Does anything bother the patient about their smile?
• How healthy does the patient consider him or herself? Does that match their medical history?
• How does the patient prefer to receive your findings?
• How does the patient learn best, and what is their current dental knowledge?
• Is keeping their teeth for a lifetime a priority for them?

This list should be customized by the dental team. Asking specific questions on the intake form yields significant results, and helps you connect with patients on a deeper level. Now is a perfect time to create a more meaningful and beneficial patient experience.

- Nancy Clark Crossin

Help alleviate fears with office personality

The constant challenge of champions is whether to get by or get better. Have you reevaluated your new new-patient experience? You already know that many people are not anxious to visit the dental office. Those of us in the dental profession have done everything we can to ensure a safe environment. There are new protocols such as preappointment questions, invasive temperature scans, and questions upon entry. Patients are greeted by people clad in full-body personal protective equipment. The reception rooms are devoid of amenities. Plastic barriers separate visitors from employees.

What are dentists doing to counter the increase in anxiety and the absence of a warm, caring environment?

Here are five tips to regain relationship building.

1. Your administrative team’s phone skills are more important than ever. Remember that tone and how they ask questions are crucial to conveying concern.
2. To help patients, laminate nametags with photos of each team member to wear on the outside of their PPE
3. Let patients know the numerous steps you’re taking for their safety via your website, or a letter displayed in your office.
4. Display photographs and short biographies of the team in the reception room so patients can learn more about the people behind the masks and face shields.
5. Remember that humor and kindness when guiding patients through the new no-touch technologies of checking out and rescheduling are always appreciated.

- Jeanette Kern, DDS

Nice gestures make a difference

After all the uncertainty of the last year, those in health care want to help patients get past the hurdles of fear, complacency, and procrastination. For decades we’ve been hearing about the significance of incredible customer service in the dental industry. People will buy what they want and be loyal to service providers who make them feel valued. It has been a struggle during the pandemic, but we’re now seeing a patient resurgence.

Some offices that I work with now have a team member or the doctor call patients to do a wellness check. These calls are to simply let patients know that the team cares, and to offer their assistance where they can. Patients appreciate these calls.

The short-term effect is that patients felt cared for, appreciated, and valued. The long-term effect is that the team instilled value and trust. As a consumer, where will you place your dedication? Would you spend your time, energy, and money with people you trust? Would you spend more money than you might usually spend because you see something as high value? Would you tell all your friends, neighbors, relatives, and coworkers about the experience?

Experience and value are key to the new new-patient experience. Have some candid conversations with your team today to explore how you can be a step ahead of this experience for your patients.

- Theresa Narantic

Go above and beyond to stand out

Many dental practices have a process they follow for intake, diagnostics, evaluation, and case presentation for new patients. In March of 2020, not only did existing procedures and protocols vanish, so did existing patients. As health-care providers, we know how to think on our feet. So, when offices reopened, we had to develop a new new-patient experience.

During the past year, we’ve been bombarded with information from experts. Our patients also have more knowledge about disease transmission, PPE, and social distancing. This awareness can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, patients expect to check in from the parking lot, see masks on everyone in the receptionist area, have their temperatures taken, and fill out questionnaires. Rather than waiting in a welcoming reception area, team members covered in PPE immediately escort patients to the clinical area.

While this may give patients a strong sense of security, we’ve lost much of the personalization that can be cultivated at the first visit. To develop a lasting relationship, you need to go above and beyond to set yourself apart as a quality practice. Since patients cannot see your smiles, they must hear and feel them. You must look patients in the eye and speak with them, not to them. The team must be able to address patient concerns in an understanding manner. Now more than ever, you must learn to hear what patients are telling you.

By exceeding patient expectations, you will build a base of desirable patients, have fewer missed appointments, better case acceptance, and a thriving practice.

- Theresa Sheppard

Display reassurance and confidence

Did you take the new normal as an opportunity to create an even better experience for patients? Our office did, and we feel our optimistic attitude carried us through 2020 and into 2021. Let’s take the new-patient experience. Why are some people looking for a new dentist right now? It may be because of what their old office did not do. Maybe they were never contacted to reschedule their appointment during the shutdown. Maybe they didn’t feel safe returning to the office due to inadequate COVID-19 protocols.

Some of the things that we’ve found to be successful start with the new-patient phone call. Patients want direction and reassurance that they will be well taken care of. Remind them that you’ve always been a master of sterilization. Be confident so that your patients will follow your lead. Let them know the extra precautions that your office is taking, such as COVID-19 wellness forms that they fill out prior to their appointments, temperature checks, preprocedural rinse, and the use of hospital-grade foggers.

Know who is in your schedule so you can easily recognize new patients. Smile with your eyes and introduce yourself to make them feel welcome. Have your auxiliary go out into the reception area and welcome patients back instead of announcing their name at the door. Be sure your back is not to them so they can understand you through your mask. Last, remember to thank your patients for trusting you with their care. This could be your opportunity to turn a new patient into a lasting relationship.

- Sherri Dinkins and Teresa Osborn

Clarity leads to good experiences

Prior to COVID-19, we could gain new patients by being pleasant, professional, knowledgeable, and accommodating. While that’s all still essential, since the pandemic, we’ve had to add one more important element. The new new-patient experience now requires that we reassure patients about our safety protocols. We’ve established trust with existing patients. I recommend the following to gain the trust of new patients.  

1. Add your COVID-19 protocols to your website. This shows that you’re serious about preventing the spread of the virus even before they call or request an appointment.
2. Explain that the office is following all CDC guidelines during the initial phone call.  
3. Communicate what you require from patients and what they can expect when they walk into your office.  

The results of explaining what to expect at their first appointment puts people at ease and builds the trust and reassurance that they need for a great new-patient experience.

- Candice Martin

DIY Digital Dental Consulting founder Nancy Clark Crossin and the DIY affiliates collaborate to offer "a consulting experience redesigned for today's dental world." With more than 200 years of combined experience, their joy is sharing wisdom, knowledge, and experience with dental professionals.