Strategies for Enhancing the Dental Patient Experience

Micah Dickerson


How can you use practice management to enhance the patient experience? Follow the guiding principle that what’s good for the patients is good for you. By keeping this in mind, you’ll automatically put patients first and create a satisfying patient experience that builds loyalty and helps you get referrals.

Let the principle of putting patients first inform the products and services you use to manage your practice. Keep in mind that systems and solutions to help your practice be more efficient also contribute to a better patient experience. When your front desk employees spend less time on rote tasks, for example, they have more time to focus on patients, helping to build strong relationships.

When evaluating new technology, software, or procedures, assess them from a patient-first perspective. Will this change help your front desk be more responsive to patient requests? Will it reduce wait time for appointments or time spent on hold? Will it improve case acceptance rate so more of your patients complete recommended treatments, improving their oral health?

For instance, automating your recall system so patients are automatically contacted when they are due for a cleaning not only saves your front desk staff time, but also helps patients maintain good dental hygiene.

Patient-First Communication Is Key

Communication is key to building strong relationships with patients. How can your communications with patients reflect and enhance a positive patient experience? Here are some tips to help.

  • Use patient communication systems that allow for nuanced messaging: While automation has many benefits, your patients don’t want to feel as if they’re talking to a machine. Consumers today have come to expect personalization in all their interactions with businesses, including their dentists. Make sure any technology you use to communicate with patients allows you to personalize and individualize texts, emails, and other communications so they sound friendly and real, not cold and robotic.
  • Time it right: Timing is everything when it comes to proper dental care, and also when it comes to patient communications. Your patients have busy lives. Properly timed communications help ensure they don’t miss important dental treatments. Remind patients well in advance when they are due for a hygiene appointment so they can schedule a time. Once the appointment is set, send reminders a few weeks ahead of the appointment so they can reschedule if needed. Finally, send automated reminders, such as texts, at convenient times during business hours, not in the middle of the night.
  • Respect your patients’ time: In addition to scheduling appointments to minimize wait times in the office, you should consider your patients’ time when communicating with them. For example, if one of your patients has 3 children due for hygiene appointments, don’t send her 3 separate voicemails or texts about the appointments. Consolidate family communications into one convenient message regarding all the family members who are due for treatment.
  • Find out how patients want to communicate: Offering choices contributes to a pleasant patient experience. For example, older patients may want to set appointments by phone and get reminders via postcards in the mail. However, many patients would rather get text messages, while others may prefer to receive communications by email. Simply ask patients how they want your office to contact them, and you’ll improve the chances that they’ll actually get the message, not to mention improve their satisfaction with your practice.
  • Be receptive to patient requests: For example, if patients want to move a scheduled appointment sooner, do everything you can to accommodate them. Maintaining a list of patients who want early appointments helps you fill last-minute cancellations while also keeping patients happy. Look for automated tools that can help you detect and fill canceled appointments. You’ll save time while still filling chairs.
  • Offer a variety of payment options: The more choices patients have about how to pay for procedures, the more likely they are to complete the treatments they need. For example, offering online bill paying means greater convenience for your patients who prefer not to deal with writing checks and mailing envelopes.
  • Don’t be judgmental: Patients have many reasons for not following through on recommended treatments, from busy schedules to financial issues to dental phobias. Take care that your communications with patients are nonjudgmental. Focus on your relationship with your patients (“We’ve missed you!”) and how they will benefit by completing treatment, rather than sounding accusatory. Mention options that can help overcome any barriers to treatment, such as payment plans, weekend appointments, or anesthesia.
  • Reach out with personalized communications: Enhance the patient experience with communications that show patients you value them. For example, sending a birthday card or email on a patient’s birthday, or an anniversary card celebrating the first day they visited your practice, will make them feel appreciated. Remind your front desk employees to greet patients by asking about their day, how their summer is going, or referencing a past experience, not just saying, “How are you?” or “How can I help you?”

Making practice management choices that improve the patient experience, and communicating that commitment to your patients, will lead to lasting patient relationships for your practice.

Mr. Dickerson is director of product management for Lighthouse 360 by, an award-winning patient-communication software for dentists, and previously managed key areas of AutoCAD and AutoCAD for Mac at Autodesk. Through his work with Lighthouse 360, he studies the overall dental patient experience and looks for ways that technology can improve upon it. He’s been working in the software world for more than 17 years and has a background in architecture, web technologies, market research, and visual design. He is a graduate of the University of California with additional education in graphic design and architecture. For more information, call (855) 888-6474. 

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