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First impressions

June 1, 2008
I am really privileged to wear a lot of hats in dentistry. I get to lecture to thousands of dental professionals each year.

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: Common Sense Dentistry, team test calls, mystery patient calls, dental appointment roadblocks.

I am really privileged to wear a lot of hats in dentistry. I get to lecture to thousands of dental professionals each year. I also consult with many dental companies and even some dental offices. I get to practice dentistry on real live patients. I enjoy dentistry immensely because of the life-changing experiences I can create for both patients and other dentists.

One of my hats is lecturer in my seminars presented by Common Sense Dentistry. One of the most popular programs that Common Sense Dentistry offers includes affordable monthly consulting teleconferences, which are calls to your office where we listen to how patients are greeted and talked to by team members. These kinds of calls are normally referred to in dentistry as “team test calls” or “mystery patient calls.” They are often incredible eye openers. For this program, my project manager, David Malcmacher, makes many calls and is constantly amazed by the results.

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One of the biggest issues that routinely comes up in a variety of dental offices is when David tries to make an actual appointment. It is disheartening and mind boggling to hear the number of stumbling blocks that some team members have been trained to place before patients to prevent an appointment.

One of the biggest roadblocks that dental offices put up is the insurance roadblock. The office manager will nicely ask if the patient has dental insurance, and if they do, what kind of insurance. If the office doesn't take the plan, many of the people on the phone go into the “We don't take that insurance” mode and send the patient away. Now I understand why this is happening. The office manager doesn't see the point of wasting everyone's time by putting people in the schedule that may go elsewhere based upon their insurance.

What I am suggesting, however, is that the office managers be trained to listen more carefully to patients regarding why they're calling. If a patient says, “Mary Jones is a good friend of mine and she referred me to your office. I would like to get whitening so my teeth look as nice as hers,” make the appointment regardless of insurance. This is a huge mistake that is happening every day, and I would bet it is happening in your office.

The teeth whitening or elective esthetic procedures are not covered by insurance anyway, so it doesn't make any difference what insurance the caller has.

Another common roadblock we see in these team test calls is the time roadblock. David recently called me after making a number of these calls and was happy to report that dentists are obviously doing quite well. I asked him how he got that idea.

He said that eight out of the 10 offices he just called could not give him an appointment until May for a routine recall exam, prophylaxis, and sensitive tooth he was supposedly calling about.

This happened in February, and eight out of 10 offices could not give him an appointment until May! I bet that it is more of a problem for most of the dentists reading this than you would imagine.

You need to train the right people and lead the right team so that your office removes any obstacles and barriers put up to people wanting to come in as new patients or for treatment. The right people with the right training will fill your schedule and keep your office running smoothly. Find them, train them, and you will reap the benefits.

Dr. Louis Malcmacher is a practicing general dentist in Bay Village, Ohio, and an internationally known lecturer, author, and dental consultant known for his comprehensive and entertaining style. You may contact him at (440) 892-1810, or e-mail [email protected]. For information on monthly consulting programs, audio CDs, and free monthly e-newsletter, go to

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