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Tips on patient relationships from experts

Dec. 18, 2013

Beginning in 2012, Dentistry IQ has periodically offered its readers the chance to explore tips from practice management experts that cover all areas of the dental practice, from patient relationships to the staff to financial concerns to front office matters to marketing strategies.

Whatever your role in the dental practice — whether you're a dentist, hygienist, front office worker, or even a consultant — there's sure to be something in this collection of tips that will help you as you continually commit to your job and practice.

The two previous incarnations of the 100 Tips articles have been big hits on the Dentistry IQ website — the original version still ranks as one of the top-read articles on our website. This fall, the Dentistry IQ editors decided to gather another round of tips. Due to a slight decrease in the number of tips we received this time around, and to increase clickability, we've decided to post each category of tips as a separate article. The separate articles will make it easier for readers to read only the tips that benefit them, although we urge you to read as many as you can!


Here are the top nine tips on patient relationships from practice management experts:

Never risk offending your telephone callers by asking them, "Have you been here before?"

They may be a long-term patient or a recent cosmetic case for all we know.

Imagine if the patient answered back, “Have I been there before? I’ve spent so much money there, he should name a room after me!”

What we really want to know is, “Are you a new patient or an existing patient?”

To best get the answer we seek — in a far more courteous way — why not ask:

"Mrs. Jones, when were you last in here to see Dr. Smith?"

Dr. David Moffet, BDS, FPFA

“Staying in the question” with a patient means resisting the urge to answer, teach, or show off by using high-tech equipment. It means hanging back to keep asking questions even when answers seem obvious. Answers may seem obvious when we have preconceived notions. Most dental teams miss this crucial opportunity to connect. These preconceived notions cause you jump to conclusions and prevent you from finding out exactly what the patient is thinking, feeling, or wanting.

Great questions:

· Why do you ask?

· Can you tell me more?

Ask questions and actively listen to your patients to set yourself apart!

Dawn Patrick

CEO, In Office Coaching

Some practitioners establish rapport with their patients by giving quick and common responses. A patient might say, “I’m a little nervous about getting a shot.” And you might respond, “You’ll be fine.” Aim to listen to understand and build relationships. We do this by actively listening to our patients instead of giving them pat answers to their concerns or questions. Active listening begins with a lead-in statement, then identifies an emotion the patient could be feeling, and then ends with a summary of the patient’s statement. Commit to actively listening to your patients and building relationships versus just having rapport.

Kristine Hodsdon

Pride Institute

The single hardest aspect of a dental team's interaction with patients is getting patients to accept our recommendations for needed care.

In our practice, we use our Digi-Doc Intraoral cameras on every patient, every day, for every procedure. Instead of agreeing to file a "pre-denial" with the insurance companies, simply take a quality photograph of the changes you see in your patient's oral health.

When the patient looks at his or her cracked tooth on the chair-side monitor, simply look him or her in the eye and say "WOW!" The next one to speak loses. Thus, your case acceptance rate increases, the quality of your care skyrockets, and your appreciation for delivering excellence will multiply.

Mark E. Hyman, DDS, PA

How can we expect a patient to value our services if we don’t? Whether speaking to a patient on the phone or in person, you should never ask a patient if he or she “just needs a cleaning,” or “just needs a filling.” By using the word “just,” it de-values the importance of their dental health and the urgency for treatment. If we want patients to value our services, we must not minimalize the perception of the doctor’s expertise or the procedure time involved. Stressing the importance of the procedure will help reduce no-shows and/or last-minute cancellations.

Theresa Sheppard, RDA

Optimal Dental Insights

Career Express Dental

[email protected]

Giving patients a “reason for return” is a proven strategy to decrease broken appointments.

When excusing the patient from your chair, which statement gives a specific reason for return?

Example 1: “Carla, it was great seeing you. Have a good time on your trip!”

Example 2: “Carla, you’re doing better with your brushing. I am concerned about the bleeding in your molars. Let’s reassess those areas at your next 12-week perio maintenance.”

Having a 30-second knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye DENTAL-CENTERED synopsis of the visit with specific areas of concern highlighted is an effective way to create value for the next appointment.

Stacy McCauley, RDH, MS

Hygiene Productivity Coach, Inspired Hygiene, Inc.

[email protected]

If you haven’t scanned your records for patients who have remaining benefits yet, you are late! End-of-year insurance reminders with a well-worded letter giving estimates of remaining benefits are helpful to patients who don’t realize that there are leftover benefits that they will lose. Include patients who have not been seen over the last two years. Send out a reminder postcard on November 1 and December 1 to those who have not responded, reminding them time is running short. Include a whitening special for the holidays.

Paul Caselle, DDS

Dental Management Decisions

When a patient says, "Your fees are too high,"show surprise and wait for their response to see what he or she means. The patient might think the procedure should cost less, or may think they cannot pay the whole fee now. Find out what the patient means. Ask:

• "What do you think was too high?"

• "What would have been a fair fee in your mind?"

• "I suppose it is possible a mistake could have been made," etc.

The patient may be asking to reduce the fee. Patients over 65 are entitled to a 5% discount. For anyone else, however, say, "Our fees are in line — they show we do quality work."

Sandy Pardue

Classic Practice Resources, Inc.

Ask. Listen. Provide.

Dan Marut, DMD

President, Quality Dental Plan

To read more tips from practice management experts, click on the following links:

Clinical I Communication I Financial I Front Office I Having a Vision I Greatest Threat to Dentistry

Scheduling I Patient Relationships I The Staff I Practice Management I Leadership I Marketing