Helping Receptionist

Building dental patient relationships

Dec. 11, 2013
Dentistry is built on relationships, which helps practices retain patients

President, 2013-2014, American Dental Assistants Association

The field of dentistry is unlike any other field of medicine in that it is completely built on relationships. The business assistant is usually the first person that a patient comes into contact with, either on the phone or in person. How are you cultivating the relationships that you have with your patients? With the recent changes to insurance coverage, as well as the increasing competition from more dental practices, how can you ensure keeping your current patient base and continuing to add patients?

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Let’s look at some simple ways to build relationships with patients.

1. Be nice - I know it sounds pretty elementary, but just think about this for a minute. How many people do you meet each day who are crabby? You don't want to interact with them or be around them, and certainly you don't want to do business with them. If you're having a bad day and can't turn it around, then don't interact with your patients. If you’re in a large practice, have someone else greet patients and answer the phone. In a small office, see if someone can give you a short break so you can collect yourself. One bad day can cause a potential patient to run to another practice. People don't like to do business with irritable people.

2. Follow up – I can’t overstate the importance of following up with your patients. Most people are busy and don't have enough hours in the day to follow up with their dental offices. How much money in uncompleted treatment plans is currently sitting in your patient’s charts? We know there will be times when patients need to reschedule an appointment or leave without an appointment. The simple act of following up will not only make you stand out from other practices, it will let your patients know that you care about them. Chart auditing should be done on a regular basis. Successful follow-up actions can simply include a phone call, e-mail, or a handwritten note. Choose follow-up actions that fit within your practice and do them regularly. Make sure that you are sincere when contacting patients — let them know that their health is paramount.

3. Trust – This is so important because most people will not do business with individuals or companies they do not trust. Start your relationships off with being honest, giving what you promised, and always keeping your word. Build relationships to the highest level of trust. Always work with integrity.

4. Eye contact - If you’re going to be interacting with people in public, make eye contact with them when speaking. Don't talk to the clouds or the floor, but directly to the patient. You’ll be surprised at how you can set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd by simply smiling and making eye contact.

5. Be yourself - People do not like to work with phonies. The most important part of your identity is just being yourself. When doing business and developing relationships, be authentic. It pays off and will work to your benefit, and you’re not spending time and energy being something you’re not. Your patients and potential patients are very intelligent and have a keen sense of perception. They will definitely sense if you’re being disingenuous. Don't brand yourself or your practice as being pretentious or insincere. It will take time to reverse this, and it is the wrong foundation to building strong, honest, and healthy relationships.

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There are numerous ways to build relationships and many of them tie together. Remember to be nice, pleasant, be yourself, and always work with integrity. Keep in mind that building relationships is a two-way street that begins with you, and treat your patients the way you want to be treated.

Lori Paschall, CDA, CPFDA, CRFDA, FADAA, is the 2013-2014 president of the American Dental Assistants Association.