Invite patients into your office

Nov. 1, 2002
From the time a potential patient calls your office, you are being judged, critiqued, and evaluated for the opportunity to care for that patient.

by Drs. Matt & Ann Bynum

From the time a potential patient calls your office, you are being judged, critiqued, and evaluated for the opportunity to care for that patient.

Over the last year, we have given you advice on how to make your dream practice a success. Much of the information has been our opinion, and much has come from our philosophy. The one thing we have not touched on, though, is pure practicality. This month, we will focus on inviting patients to become a part of your practice.

You must have an effective start to the patient-introduction process — the initial phone call. From the time a potential patient calls your office, you are being judged, critiqued, and evaluated for the opportunity to care for that patient. You may have heard this before, but smiling while you talk on the phone is critical. When potential patients call, they want to feel important. They want to be assured that you have a caring office. The kindness that your receptionist exhibits on the phone is crucial to establish that positive first impression through a pleasant conversation.

We have already discussed the importance of building aesthetics, but how about property cleanliness? When was the last time you actually walked around the outside of your office? Is the parking area clean or full of trash and debris? Is the landscaping presentable, or are there weeds and shrubs out of control? If the area is not well-kept, it makes a poor first impression. The thought process of a new patient is that if the outside is dirty, then the inside must be dirty too.

When patients enter your office, are they greeted by a wall of glass and a sliding window? Get rid of the barriers between you and your patients. Patients want to be seen and heard. In today's market, there needs to be as much openness as possible to make patients feel at ease.

Once your patient arrives at the front desk to check in, is he met with a clipboard and pencil dangling from a string? What kind of message are you sending? In our office, we have a guest book bound in leather for each patient to sign. Alongside their name, we ask patients to give their email address for future contact and appointment information. We have a nice Cross or Monte Blanc pen resting inside the guest book so patients can feel the value we place on their visit to our office. I know what you are thinking ... what if someone takes the expensive pen? So what? Increase your fee and buy 10 pens to have as spares in case such an event occurs. Don't step over the dollars to get to the pennies!

Once the patient signs in, more than likely he is handed new-patient paperwork to fill out. A majority of the time this paperwork is clipped on yet another clipboard with accompanying Bic pen or No. 2 pencil with a missing eraser! Again, what kind of message are you sending? All of our patient paperwork is contained in a leather binder with a clip and pocket. Inside the binder is another stylish pen for writing in class and comfort. Remember, it's all about image and presentation.

As the patient turns from the counter to sit down, what does he see? Is the furniture sterile-looking and uncomfortable? Are there magazines present to pass the time? In my office, the furniture is comfortable just like in my living room at home. In the center of the room there is a beverage bar filled with assorted coffees, cocoa, cider, tea, and all of the accompaniments, such as flavored cream and sugar cubes. Alongside the beverages is an Otis Spunkmeyer cookie oven and a decorative bowl filled with warm cookies. As the patient turns to sit in the oversized sofa, he sees a sofa table behind it with an artistic glass deco fruit bowl, filled with assorted fruit (apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, peaches, pears, plums, etc.). Next to the fruit bowl is a matching pitcher full of water, ice, and sliced fruit, such as oranges, lemons, and strawberries.

When the patient sits down to fill out his paperwork, directly in front of him lie assorted magazines ranging from Sports Illustrated to Bon Apetit. All of the reading materials in the reception area, operatories, and consultation room are current; there are no outdated, two-year-old magazines anywhere in the office. If the patient does not want to read, he can peruse artwork in the reception area, enjoy our rock fireplace, or look at aesthetic smile design photos. Remember, this is a reception area, not a "waiting room." People do not like to wait!

When it is time for the patient to be brought back to the treatment area, he is not summoned as he would be for surgery. Instead, the patient is greeted in person ... in the reception area ... by a team member ... with a smile! As he leaves the reception area, he passes through double doors to an atmosphere very different from the living room comfort. As a team member escorts the patient into the consultation area, he can look around and see poster-size photos of actual patients and their smile rejuvenations.

The ceilings are painted a brilliant royal blue, with the tiles missing to allow a view of the hardware of the ceiling components. This is painted for aesthetic purposes as well. There is no worn-out, dirty, shag carpet anywhere in the office, nor is there dark paneling on the walls. The patient areas are always kept very clean and presentable.

The next stop for the patient is the consultation room, where he will be invited to participate in an open conversation about specific dental needs, wants, and past experiences. As he enters this room, the first thing he sees is a 37-inch, flat-panel plasma screen, mounted directly on the wall. All computer-based and digital work is performed on this screen for the patient to see up close and firsthand. In the interview, we ask the patient, "If there is anything you wish you could change about your smile, what would it be?" The majority of the time there is something patients would like to change. At this point my team digitally images the patient's smile, using Sci-Can's Image FX system. Often, just seeing the possibilities and the level at which we can now perform using today's technology is all that is needed to remind patients of their desire to alter their looks and resultant personality.

Prior to beginning the initial periodontal evaluation, we give patients a tour of the facility on their way to the rear of the building for a panoramic radiograph. More often than not, they are amazed at this piece of equipment, because they have never had a panoramic X-ray. Afterwards, we lead the patient to the treatment room and seat him in a plush, upholstered A-dec dental chair. Resting on the chair is a padded body massager, which we invite him to try. To the patient's immediate right is a flat-panel plasma computer screen, which contains all patient transactions. Above and directly in front is a wall-mounted television set for intraoral camera use. As the patient asks what the TV is for, we invite him to relax as the hygienist takes him on a "tour" of his mouth to evaluate its health and structures. It is truly amazing what can be seen at a magnified level that we normally do not see. Remember, the oral environment is a very hostile environment, where micro-trauma is induced daily.

At the conclusion of the tour, the patient is laid back for a periodontal evaluation. Using a computerized probe that reads the findings aloud is as powerful as visibly seeing the problem firsthand. Imagine hearing numbers like two, one, two, and then five ... only to be followed immediately with a comment of "bleeding" from the computerized voice.

While the inundation of technology continues, the hygienist then informs the patient that she will be performing a series of screenings and diagnostic tests. From periodontal probing to cancer screening, the patient is in awe of the thoroughness and proficiency of the evaluation. The very last screening done prior to the initial periodontal prophy is the "laser cavity exam." Using KaVo's DIAGNOdent, we evaluate and assess all occlusal surfaces using the latest in laser technology. As the patient holds the instrumentation, he can see the numbers rise and the sound increase in intensity. It is very powerful!

Almost all initial periodontal prophies are done using hand instrumentation and ultrasonic instrumentation. Utilizing Slimline Cavitron® instrumentation by Dentsply, the initial tartar and residual toxins are removed. Although sonic instrumentation is not new to our profession and has been proven very effective in the treatment of periodontal disease, it is often fairly new to patients. After hand instrumentation, we then polish, often using Prophy-Jet by Dentsply. All of this is performed in an open environment, while the back massager is running, an aromatherapy candle is burning, and a relaxing water fountain is running in one of the hygiene suites.

At the end of the visit, the hygienist calls over a two-way radio communication system for an exam by the doctor and to have the paperwork done and the next appointment scheduled by the hygiene concierge. This type of communication system allows for total office efficiency. It eliminates the usual office communication methods of yelling down the hall, paging across the phone system, placing sticky notes on the counters, and flashing a red or green light on the wall behind the patient. What do these old systems communicate to the patient? If patients want to be treated to the best of our abilities and the best of modern technology, shouldn't your office offer that? Patients typically are not versed in the language of dentistry. They rely on their intuition and their sense of surrounding. All around us the world is advancing in the areas of computerization and communication, and we must do the same.

At the end of the visit, we sit the patient upright in the chair and hand him a moist, hot towel to refresh and clean his face and hands. On the decorative silver tray, alongside the hot towel, lies a mint or chocolate for the patient to take to his next destination. Much like a first-class flight or a five-star hotel, we treat our patients to the best of our ability so that they leave our office feeling valued.

As the patient is led to the hygiene or treatment concierge for future scheduling, we ask if he would like some bottled water, a cookie for the road, or an all-herbal tonic elixir while he schedules his next appointment. Tonic elixir you say? Yes! Herbal supplements are making their place in the market today. Such herbal drinks are provided for health, mind, and spirit enhancement. The tonic elixirs are mixed "martini-style" and served with an accompanying fruit slice. The selections vary from relaxing to energy and everything in between.

As if the patient has not been pampered enough, he is handed a new toothbrush and all of the accompaniments, such as floss and rinses, in a logo-embossed gift bag. We thank the patient for his visit to our office and always address him by name with a friendly smile. As the patient departs, all team members within 10 feet thank the patient for his visit and say good-bye. A follow-up phone call that night or the following day by the doctor, again saying thank you, means more than any physical thing the patient can touch or see. It is this type of caring that leaves patients with a good final impression.

It is all about providing atmosphere for your patients. How would you want to be treated? Most patients will be happy to have such good customer service, but some will want just what has been done for the last 25 years of their dental lives. How others perceive your office is created by you and your team. Your office, its atmosphere, and the resulting philosophy are all determined by you! If the few patients who want what is average leave, so what? While you would love to treat everybody who sets foot in your office, it is impossible! It may seem callous, but this statement that I have heard many times really is applicable to our profession: "Some will. Some won't. So what? Next!"

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