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Do you understand what “comfort” means?

April 28, 2022
Patients generally don't think of dental offices as comfortable places. But they should! Jeffrey Hoos, DMD, shares personal experiences that have helped him create a comfortable place for patients to enjoy.

This is my fourth column. What fun it is to share! I have asked everyone to do three things so far:

Those three tasks need to be completed on our Practice Building 101 journey.

What is the next step that is necessary to build the practice you want or change some things in the practice that you have worked so hard in building?

We are bombarded with marketing plans, business ideas, and negativity. It is easy to get discouraged or lost, but that is when you return to your mission statement. My mission statement is: Providing the highest quality care for the greatest number of people while maintaining balance in art, science, and business.

Keeping this balance is critical, and if not done, your chair will fall over. We must do beautiful dentistry based on great science and using sound business principles.

The 4th building block

When a person becomes part of your dental family, they have agreed to become your patient and they are expecting high quality care in a comfortable environment. So when we talk about comfortable, what do we really mean? How can you achieve a comfortable environment in a dental office, which most people associate with painful experiences? What is comfort?

According to Merriam-Webster, comfortable is defined as follows:

1a. Affording or enjoying contentment and security

1b. Affording or enjoying physical comfort

2a. Free from vexation or doubt

2b. Free from stress or tension

I want you to specifically think about your dental office and its physical environment. When was the last time you drove up to your office, got out of your car, walked through the door, and really noticed everything as if you were a new patient? Never, I am willing to bet. That is not a criticism but a reality.

When I say everything, remember—it has nothing to do with dentistry. It has to do with the things around you and your physical space. The environment that we create in our lives helps create the lives that we want.

We become numb to our environment and get used to what we do not see. We don’t see it because we don’t look or we don’t want to see. Someone once said: “See what the patient sees, hear what the patient hears, smell what the patient smells, and feel what the patient feels.”

When was the last time you sat in your reception area (not “waiting room”)? When was the last time you really looked around your office with a critical eye? If you cannot do it, I am certain your team can. When you start doing that, you can start making the changes to create a more comfortable space.

A lesson from a NYC restaurant

There was a wonderful restaurant in New York City that my wife, Betsy, introduced me to when we were first married. I am from Maine and could count on a single hand the times I had gone to a fancy restaurant before I went to college. So when I first went to Giambelli’s, I had never had such an experience. I was making very little money at the time, so we planned our trip to the restaurant very carefully.

When I called for the reservation, the phone was answered in two rings and the man who answered said, “Giambelli’s on 50th, looking forward to seeing you.” When I asked about a Saturday night reservation at 7:30, he told me that time was not available but said, “I have an amazing table with a great server at 8:30 or 9:00. I hope one of those times will work for you.” I accepted one of those times.

He asked if we would be coming by car, because they had valet service available at the front door. He asked what kind of car we would be driving and if we were celebrating something that evening. I told them we were celebrating my wife’s birthday. He responded, “Great, we look forward to seeing you at 8:30 Saturday the 20th at Giambelli’s on 50th.”

I noticed how easy it was to find the place because the signage was clear. I also noticed the beautiful entrance with plants at the doorway. I drove my used Honda Accord up and a valet came out and opened the door for Betsy. “Dr. and Mrs. Hoos, welcome to Giambelli’s on 50th. I will take great care of your car. While you are dining with us, I would love to give your car a quick wash.” I asked about the charge for this and the answer was: “Happy to do it for you. There is no charge.” An unexpected extra service.

When we entered the restaurant, we were greeted with: “Dr. and Mrs. Hoos, welcome to Giambelli’s on 50th. Your special table is available right now. And happy birthday, Mrs. Hoos. This is Michele, your server.”

Everything was beautiful—the art on the walls, the table settings, the flowers on the table. The place was mobbed but everything was moving smoothly. Everyone was working hard but smiling and moving as if in sync with their job of taking care of their patrons.

Of course, everyone came over to sing happy birthday to my wife. The service was amazing, the food was amazing, the dessert was amazing, even the bathroom was amazing.

And the bill was really big. But I was thrilled to pay it because Betsy was smiling and happy and it was a great birthday experience for us both. When we were leaving, I noticed Robert De Niro sitting with a few other people, and I felt I was treated the same as he was being treated.

Our coats were ready for us at the front door and our newly washed car was waiting for us. It was raining and the valet had an umbrella. He said to me, “Please wait here so I can get Mrs. Hoos, the birthday girl, into the car and then I will be back for you, Doctor.” Driving home, all we could talk about was going back again, and we did go back many times.

What does all this have to do with being comfortable? Because from the moment I called, the interaction was comfortable for me. The experience was expensive, but because all the interactions were amazingly comfortable, I was delighted to pay the tab. Because I was comfortable and understood the value of what I was paying for, it made me want to do it again.

The environment you create—from the way your phone is answered to the appearance of your entrance, to your bathroom, to how patients are treated—is not about painless injections. That is coming in another column. It’s about creating a comfortable experience. So when we think about balancing the art, science, and business of dentistry, remember that creating a comfortable office is the beginning of creating a great dental practice.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the April 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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