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Firing Dental Patients

How to hire good dental patients

Sept. 8, 2023
You wouldn't hire someone who was an obvious misfit for your practice culture. You also don't have to retain patients who go against everything you represent.

Dentists, it’s time to be choosy. Not everyone deserves a seat in your chair. If you’re a private practitioner, then you already know this to a certain extent. When you hire your staff, you don’t extend a job offer to everyone you interview. Some people are clearly a mismatch. Some people share your core values and principles, and others abide by a different playbook. Basically, when operating within a framework of mutual respect, it would never occur to you to hire someone who treated you or your staff otherwise. 

This makes perfect sense when it comes to hiring your staff. However, some dentists tend to blur the lines when it comes to the people they treat. Sometimes this stems from a scarcity mindset. Due to the competitive nature of operating a business, dentists might be tempted to keep patients on the schedule despite them being less than optimal for business.

For instance, if a patient has a habit of canceling at the last minute, they could conceivably cost more money than they bring in. Worse yet, a patient who berates the staff and causes a perfectly good employee to have an emotional breakdown is certainly not someone you want to welcome back.   

As a highly perceptive advisor with 30 years in the business, I frequently remind clients that the “juice must be worth the squeeze.” If it isn’t, then it makes sense to let them go, these lackluster patients who drain the energy and resources of your business. Not every customer is worth keeping. 

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Is it worth it to let a patient go? 

I know what you’re thinking. This goes against the conventional wisdom that the customer is always right. But I challenge you to modify it: the customer is mostly right. We can safely give them the benefit of the doubt much of the time. I operate from the premise that people are benevolent at heart. Customers mean well, and they mostly add value to your business. 

Before you let go of every patient who has been disagreeable at one point or another, first acknowledge that we all have good days and bad days. An irate patient isn’t automatically wrong. If a patient expresses anger about a bill, this could be an indication that an office member didn’t properly disclose the full cost of treatment upfront.

However, if the same patient repeatedly argues over what they owe despite your staff’s concerted efforts to explain all costs prior to treatment, then perhaps it’s time to let the patient find a new dentist. The alternative? You can expect to endure the same agonizing ritual every time you request payment from them.

Firing a customer should not be a typical occurrence. Otherwise, it’s a clear indication that something internal is off kilter. Again, I operate from the premise that people are generally good at heart. If you routinely encounter patients who seem unruly, I encourage you to do some introspection. Do you exhibit your core values daily? Does your staff demonstrate those same values? Regular outbursts from customers are not indicative of a sound and respectable business. On the contrary, routine discontent means that a malignancy exists somewhere within the ranks, and it’s time to perform a biopsy.

Every business operates similar to everything else—it’s all about attraction. If you’re attracting unruliness, then something unruly is occurring from within, which must be a contributing factor to upset patients. In other words, if your staff works in harmony, then there’s no reason for discordance to arise within patients. If on the rare occasion you encounter a patient who seems all but rotten to the core, then you can bid them adieu in good conscience, and it will feel good to everyone in your office when it happens. 

Keep it professional 

If you’re worried about what to say to an irksome rascal, keep it simple and professional. No need to make a big scene. Simply outline what you’ve done to try to allay the patient's concerns, emphasize the solutions you’ve offered, stress that it is you and your staff’s utmost intent to be courteous and professional, and say that you’ve done all you can. Since they’re still unhappy, it’s up to them to take their business elsewhere. 

I don’t encourage my clients to publicly embarrass anyone or unnecessarily criticize people in any way, especially not their customers. But there is something powerful that happens during a public firing. When you make it known that you will not tolerate blatant disrespect and that you’re committed to upholding your core values, you immediately strengthen the resolve of every witness in the room to play by your rules. 

When your business is running like a finely tuned piece of machinery, the people within it should, to a certain extent, resemble you. You’re committed to showing up on time for them. They need to be committed to showing up on time for you, whether they’re your employees or your patients. Scheduled patients who are made to wait 15 minutes before being seen may think twice before showing up on time for their next appointment. 

Hold yourself accountable to your own expectations and demonstrate your commitment by keeping your end of the bargain. Mutual respect works the same way. Show respect first, and then it’s only logical that you’ll receive it in return. Your business is essentially a reflection of you. Therefore, whenever something creeps up that isn’t indicative of what you stand for, take a moment to make certain that you’re representing what you expect to receive. From that vantage point, you can safely determine what or who needs to go.          

In a world of buyers and sellers, I teach my clients to assume the role of buyer. Even when selling a service, you’re buying the loyalty of your patients with your time and talent. Savvy buyers don’t settle. Just as your patients shouldn’t settle on choosing a mediocre dentist, you’re wise not to settle for patients who exasperate you and your staff. The truer you remain to your core values, the more you’ll understand your uncompromising worth. You owe it to yourself, your business, and your employees to serve only those who are worthy of your service.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the September 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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