In both my dental practices and now in my consulting business, I have always stressed and valued a patient-centric approach—that is, one that is not doctor-centric or team-centric, but instead employs and teaches a philosophy that says that the patient is the star of the show.
Why should you operate a patient-centric practice? Primarily, your patients (actually, your “guests”) will appreciate being the focus of your attention both personally and clinically. This includes your clinical and your administrative team. A few things you may need to do are:
- Greet your patients personally by name. Get rid of your sign-in sheet.
- Show new patients around the office and introduce them to other team members.
- Install a baby changing station in the restroom.
- Wear name badges.
- Offer amenities such as a beverage bar, free Wi-Fi, blankets, and personal ear buds. (We offered a spongy, squeezable ball for our fearful patients.) Be creative.
When your patients see, hear, and feel that you value them and not just their business, they will become loyal to your practice. They will become better and even outstanding referral sources. And when the bill comes due, they will be much more happy to pay your fee. Don’t you think that will result in an increased bottom line?
Another reason to be patient-centric is that it’s simply the right thing to do. By going out of your way to make your patients feel special, you will enrich their lives as well as the lives of your employees. It really is better to give than receive.
But practice leaders need to be careful not to underestimate the difficulty in transitioning to a patient-centric practice. We are selfish to a degree—some of us more than others—and it’s difficult to get rid of that ingrained habit. You may need to fake the patient-centric attitude until it becomes part of your core.
It sounds hypocritical, but it’s a trick that really can work to change your attitude. Now, you may not need to fake it with your patients. But sometimes a little faking is necessary to bring yourself back into focus and see the results in your patients’ attitudes.
Other Steps to Take
There are other things you can do to make your practice a patient-centric showcase.
Start by making it part of your vision and mission statement and share it with your employees. Motivate them by setting the example and rewarding them for adopting this vision. (And get rid of those who may refuse.)
When I began practicing several years ago, I ignored this advice and it was a hard lesson. I knew what I was thinking about how I wanted to treat my patients, but my team members were not reading my mind. Your team members are probably not reading yours either.
Next, add great communication processes to your patient interactions. Make your phone greeting memorable. Be consistent in communicating your office policies by scripting in a polite and engaging way—even funny!
For instance, when patients miss an appointment, send them an email or text with a funny theme and picture. Use a cartoon character with a silly expression and caption it with a variation of, “Oh no! I forgot my appointment!” Add a smiley face and invite them to call and reschedule. Be creative!
Also, spend money on your patients. Give away prizes for any celebratory event in their lives. Radical, you say? Remember, it’s about the patient. Don’t worry. You will be rewarded.
I know of practices that give away a car every year to a patient in a drawing. Another practice has purchased and given away cars to people who needed transportation and couldn’t afford it. That is very generous, of course, but the dividends are real and numerous.
Additionally, you can offer more clinical services such as dental sleep medicine and Invisalign. In my 2-doctor practice, we added both and saw our new patient numbers explode. Be the place in your community and neighborhood for complete and comprehensive dentistry.
Finally, patients are busy people, so be efficient and on time. If a delay comes up, tell them and keep telling them every 10 minutes, otherwise known as the 10-Minute Rule.
We also had what we called “Oops” cards. If we made a mistake on billing or scheduling or if we were running late, we would give the patient a gift card worth about $20 to Starbucks or some other nice place to help smooth out the issue.
These are just a few of the practical things you can do to create this transition. There are hundreds more ideas that will make your practice stand out in the minds of your patients and community.
But if you see that you are falling short, don’t despair. Just make a plan to start by implementing a few of these ideas and add to them as you grow into it. Yes, it will take some effort and maybe cost you some time and money. But it is well worth the trouble.
Dr. Bobby Haney recently retired from private dental practice in Waxahachie, Tex, after 32 years. He is the founder and leader of PracticeGrowthCoach.com and president of 1Twenty2 Ministries, and he hones his “others-centric” skills with his family at their home in Bristol, Tex. He can be contacted via his website, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 469-843-0119.