Handling Broken Appointments, Low Case Acceptance, and High Stress Through Patient Education

Dentistry Today


The way you handle patient education is the source of every problem you’re having in your practice. Transform the way you educate your patients and you’ll have the practice you’ve always wanted to have.

Of course, countless articles have already been written on this subject. You’ve more than likely encountered the myriad of videotapes, cassettes, boot camps, and entire seminars designed for you and your staff to apparently “master the art and science of having patients understand the importance of proper oral healthcare.” And yet, you still find yourself with the same problems: Your patients don’t always show up for their appointments, they don’t want to accept the treatments you recommend, and they do not refer to you as often as you would like. 

So, what’s missing? Why aren’t any of these new techniques working? And perhaps more important, why does it even matter that your patients be educated about what you do, why you do it, and how it’s done in your office?

The purpose of this article is to define what patient education is, what it is not, and why the distinction between the two is so important to the growth of your practice. From this distinction, we’ll introduce a revolutionary, easy to implement, new patient education system that will ensure all of your patients make you their dentist for themselves and their families for life. This article will not give you another fancy “cookie-cutter” technique that will somehow manipulate your patients into accepting proper treatment. Rather, it’s about giving you the principles and clarifications that will allow you to take charge of your interactions with your patients so that you can powerfully and positively influence them. 

To begin with, you must realize that the main purpose of patient education is to build a trusting relationship with a person who has come to you with numerous misconceptions, misunderstandings, and fears about dentistry and the importance of oral healthcare. For example, one misconception people have is that dentistry deals only with teeth—in other words, what they can see in the mirror every day. The majority of the general public knows little about the importance of care and maintenance of the gums. 

Likewise, most dentists believe that the most important part of patient education lies strictly on the clinical side of dentistry. This includes all conversations regarding the physical condition of the mouth and the consequences if problems go untreated, along with any solutions to handling the patient’s current problems. 

However, our studies show that clinical education accounts for only 15% of the reason why a patient will return to your practice. Moreover, our work has proven that 85% of patient education should center on two more important forms of education for your practice to be successful in impacting the well-being of your patients.

Thus, the current model of patient education we see in virtually every practice we work with, regardless of how seemingly successful it may be, is based upon the wrong focus. Virtually all the effort is applied to clinical education and very little towards anything else.

Let’s distinguish a new model of education that allows you to effectively influence your patient, as opposed to the old model that allows the patient’s insecurities to influence and control you.

This new model of patient education puts 50% of the focus on what we call practice education, 35% on ad­ministrative education, and 15% on clinical education. What does this mean to you and your practice? Let’s examine the two new forms of education—practice education and administrative education—in detail.

We’ll start with practice education, which is centered on relationship building and rapport. It is about communicating what is unique about you and your practice, and relating that to your patient’s life. It involves getting to know the patient on a personal level, what he does and does not know about dentistry, and his reality concerning his current state of oral health. What have the patient’s past dental experiences been like? What is their main fear about seeing a dentist? Is it time, cost, or pain? What is their primary objective in coming to you? Is it health of their teeth, freedom from pain, or the ap­pearance of their teeth? These are all examples of questions that should be asked and discussed during this phase of patient education. During practice education the patient should also get to know you not only as a doctor, but as a person as well. Share your philosophy and your purpose as a dentist. This is why it’s so important to have a concise, written purpose statement for your life and your practice.

Discuss your unique system of treating and educating patients in your office, and why you do things the way you do. Give a history of your practice in the community, and discuss your team and their assets. Make the patient aware of all the options for treatment available to them. Be sure to keep it a dialogue not a monologue. The more the patient is talking, the more you are winning. 

Administrative education, which should constitute 35% of your focus, is centered on the systems, policies, and procedures of the office. During this phase of patient education, the patient is made aware of the “rules of the game.” In other words, this includes gaining agreement in writing about broken and canceled appointments, finances, scheduling, insurance, being late for appointments, and any other of numerous possible points of compliance you expect from your patients, and how they are handled in your office. Agreements that are made in advance prevent disagreements and lost patients later on. In short, you’re professionally and ethically letting the patient know what they can expect from you and what you expect from them.

Above all, take your time and maintain your interest and attention without interruption when you’re with a patient. A lifetime relationship cannot be built in 5 minutes. If you are distracted and/or rushed, a patient will sense it and think you do not care about them.

As you may already be seeing, a 50% focus on practice education and a 35% focus on administrative education establishes the in­tegrity of your relationship with your patients. Any great relationship, whether it is a marriage, a friendship, or a partnership, is based and founded upon integrity. The greater the integrity behind a relationship, the greater the mutual benefit. Isn’t that why you got into dentistry in the first place? To positively impact your patients well- being while feeling successful and prosperous at the same time? 

So, how do you powerfully implement this new model of patient education with certainty and ease? The first key is to understand the natural barriers to its implementation. Obviously a thorough system of education takes time. In a recent survey, we learned that 82% of dentists spend an average of 5 to 10 minutes educating patients in their initial consult. If you were to ask yourself when was the last time you made a potentially $2,000 to $10,000 investment decision into a foreign subject that you spent only 5 to 10 minutes learning about, you would see why closing treatment plans is so difficult in most dental practices. You cannot afford NOT to take the time to educate patients, but at the same time you cannot sacrifice production time either. So what’s the solution? 

In the offices we coach, we have created the position of patient care coordinator. Essentially this person is your personal assistant, liaison, instructor, and financial manager all in one. Their job is to educate patients through relationship building, orient them to the practice, and present and close cases with your assistance. They handle the majority of interaction with all new patients over a 2-day process done over a 1-week period of time while focusing on the 85% of pa­tient education that makes all the difference. This consistently sends new patient acceptance and conversion to 90% or above through strong communication, personal con­nection and attention, and the creation of a patient who truly understands the value of and need for what you provide. Through this 2-day process all the barriers, noncompliance, and opposition towards having the patient get all the care he really needs are removed and handled.

When you educate new patients in this way, you make the most money, retain patients longer, get more referrals, have fewer broken and canceled appointments, and full-mouth treatment is paid in full before you start treatment.

There are obviously many steps involved in effectively implementing this system and keeping it functioning, from the recruiting, hiring, and training of patient care coordinators, to setting aside time in your appointment book and space in your office to manage the flow of the process. The process is simple, however, it will require willingness and commitment on your part. Hopefully this article has inspired you to take your practice to the next level and to better serve your patients while creating greater prosperity and less stress for you.

Mr. Kadi and Mr. Massotto are the managing partners of Staff Driven Practices. They have been nationally recognized by ABC, FOX, CNN News, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Dentistry Today. After 10 years of business consulting success, Mr. Kadi and Mr. Massotto joined forces to use their extensive expertise in business and people development to master their application in the dental field. Since 1997 their unique processes have helped create effortless and fulfilling lives for dentists and their teams. They can be contacted in their New Jersey offices at (973) 812-2188 or via e-mail at gary@staff­driven­practices.com.


For a complete and comprehensive outline of the Two-Day New Patient Education and Orientation System, visit www.staffdrivenpractices.com.