With the rise of the computer age, especially social media and various online consumer rating platforms, it has never been more important to ensure that your patient has a positive experience with your practice from start to finish. For many dental practices, this means creating and implementing a customer service strategy. The following suggestions represent a summary of sound advice from leading healthcare providers and industry analysts on customer service best practices.
- Solid business practices lay the groundwork for good patient relations. Though glitches happen in the most efficient practices, savvy professionals make every effort not to give patients cause to complain. Accurate scheduling; clear, reliable telephone and email messaging; prompt feedback on procedures and tests; and coordinated communication among dental team members build patient confidence and satisfaction.
Studies suggest that inadequate billing procedures may wreak havoc with patient relations. Given this, staff persons responsible for invoicing and other financial matters must take particular care to be sensitive and equitable in dealing with patients. In addition, all bills should be concise, complete and easy to understand.
If inferior practice management software or outdated record-keeping systems are causing snafus, look into new programs, or seek the advice of a qualified IT professional. A relatively small investment can make the difference between losing - and holding on to - a significant number of patients.
- Create a pleasant ambience in the reception area. Many patients are a bit nervous anyway, and long spells in the waiting room don't do much to increase patient satisfaction. Still, delays are sometimes unavoidable. If patients cannot be seen promptly, the receptionist should inform them of the situation upon their arrival, and then provide a projected time.
To further ease the situation, stock the place with current general interest magazines; books and toys for children; and a television tuned to a news channel. In the absence of a TV, think about soft, piped-in music.
Indirect lighting (lamps rather than overheads), large windows and clean, comfortable furniture likewise work well to soothe and relax anxious patients.
- Allow time for patient education. Be generous with information concerning a patient's particular issues and invite questions. Keep answers clear, understandable and light on medical jargon. Better yet, supplement these discussions with simple brochures on dental hygiene and care.
- Treat patients as individuals. A dentist may have drilled thousands of teeth and performed hundreds of root canals, but for patients, these procedures may be new territory. Take time to address their anxiety during treatment, and follow up with phone calls or emails.
- Add a "human" touch. Jot some notes about the patient's job, family, school, hobbies and other personal circumstances in their charts; then bring up a topic during the appointment. People feel nurtured when they believe their healthcare providers care about them.
- Don't just talk. Listen. Observe. By allowing patients to speak freely and taking note of body language, astute professionals can gain insight on how best to approach treatment on an individualized basis. Being a good listener also invites the patient's trust.
- Use specific language when taking patient histories. Too often, unclear or imprecise questions elicit incomplete information, leading to miscommunication and misunderstanding between the dentist and patient.
- Keep tabs on current patients, even when they have not been to the office for a while. Checking in via email, an occasional phone call or an annual "state-of-the-patient" appointment are strategies that can warm up the most tepid practitioner/patient relationship.
- Train support staff to value all patients. While dental reception areas can be hotbeds of activity, this is never an excuse for brusqueness or rude disregard of patients waiting to see their physicians. Recognize and reward personnel who interact with patients in a warm, respectful manner.
- Treat office personnel with respect. In the long run, being fair and courteous to staff impacts patients positively as well. A happy employee is more likely to be pleasant to others.
- Accept personal limitations. No matter how service-focused a practitioner may be, everyone has weaknesses. Irritable or complaining patients can trigger impatience, distress - even anger - in their care providers. Make a concerted effort to keep emotions under control, a technique that, admittedly, requires a healthy dose of patience.