How do we ensure that our patients experience exceptional care with each office interaction? It starts with a well-established framework. Nothing great happens by accident. Building a patient-centered practice takes intention.
The daily routines of the dental office make it simple for the dentist to stray from the touchpoints needed to provide a great experience for the patient. Leading a successful dental practice is not solely about achieving clean margins around crown preparations or creating anatomical tooth restorations. Rather, we should turn our focus first to our patients and give them the ultimate experience with our office.
The definition of customer experience is the totality of experience a customer has with a business, across all channels and touchpoints. When patients have positive experiences in your practice and with your courteous and talented team, they will promote your practice and be enthusiastic about referring other patients to you. These positive experiences will build trust in your team that ultimately will lead to treatment acceptance.
Peter Merholz outlines two ways companies can go about building a structure for customer experience. He starts by exploring the inner workings of the business and seeing how they lead to a particular patient/customer experience. The order of the first method is:
While this may seem logical from a business owner’s perspective, Merholz warns it isn’t the best order of focus if the patient experience is what really matters. Instead, he flips the traditional structure on its head and insists leaders begin with the patient experience, define what makes that great, and work inward from there:
My team and I begin by defining what a stellar patient experience means to us, and then we establish our systems, procedures, touchpoints, and interactions to support that definition. Every effort at community outreach, every phone call, every time a patient is in our reception room, every procedure, and every payment interaction needs to be oriented toward the patient’s needs and desires, not mine or my team’s. The patient’s experience is the sum of every interaction with us.
Here is a breakdown of ways we optimize our patients’ experience at each point through our office by prioritizing their experience above all else.
Above all else, the comfort, care, and feelings of our patients are always the top priority. In our office, the patient is always number one. Our motto is simple: Treat each patient like family. At every juncture, we hold that as our standard of success. If any other point in the process does not support the patient as the primary focus, we know it is time to reevaluate that particular segment. If we receive a less than stellar review about a front desk interaction, instead of being defensive, we take the review seriously and evaluate what we could have done differently and implement change.
Each and every interaction we have with patients puts their needs first. For example, if I know people would like to be able to schedule appointments online instead of by a phone call, I will add the feature to the website. We accommodate our patients by providing in-office services and professional products so they can remain with someone they trust. For example, whenever possible, we offer specialized treatments such as endodontics in-house so our patients won’t be inconvenienced when seeing specialists. We want our patients to know we value their time as much as if not more than ours. Each interaction should make the life of the patient easier.
Touchpoints are all of the spaces in which a patient might experience engagement and communication with you or your business. When potential patients call the office, how do we show them that they are the top priority? We demonstrate that our front office team is trained to go above and beyond to make sure our patients’ questions are heard and addressed. Complicated matters such as working with their insurance, sending appointment reminders via text, and offering helpful information on oral health through our social media make the overall experience positive and patient-centered. No matter how insignificant it may be, if our patients voice a concern, we make sure to address it with professionalism and honesty.
Procedures are the internal workings of the business. How can you ensure they also point to a positive patient experience? Make sure that when you write your rules of business, you embed your patient-centered goals. An example would be how you handle payments. Are you set up to offer options to your patients? Do you offer third-party financing, payment plans, or discounts for paying cash? Presenting various options tells your patients you put their needs first. It will go a long way in how they feel about you and your business.
Are the office systems supporting the patient experience? One important but often overlooked system is in the way your office physically caters to your patients. How is your whole facility configured to accommodate them, and not just to provide comfort during the dentistry? Go above and beyond to make sure the reception room is comfy and pleasing. We offer calming music, current reading materials, and complimentary Wi-Fi to make certain our patients feel like family during their visit. The overall office environment does not need to be extravagant to be impressive, but a must is to always be tidy and well maintained. Furthermore, how you speak directly to patients is more important than any gadget or coffee you may offer in the reception area.
Structuring Your Business
Sit down with your team and regularly discuss these segments of the customer experience framework. What is currently in place, and what areas could you improve upon? Have you been structuring your office with the patient experience at the forefront? Or, are you working your business in the hope that your patient experience will end up being positive by chance? Take careful stock of each patient interaction and develop new systems to help support an overarching goal of a positive patient experience. Enjoy the reward of putting patients first!
Dr. Leppo is a practicing general dentist in Columbia, Ill, located outside metro St. Louis, Mo. He is a graduate of the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine and has obtained advanced training in oral surgery, sedation dentistry, implants, orthodontics and endodontics. He achieved Fellowship status with the Academy of General Denistry (FAGD) and Mastership with the College of Sedation in Dentistry (MaCSD). He is actively involved in the local community and believes that providing a great patient experience is the cornerstone to achieving dental success. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.