The new-patient experience

April 1, 2000
At a recent seminar in Colorado, an attendee asked a question I realized I have been answering for many years. The question was, "How many times should a new patient be seen before you present treatment?"

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

At a recent seminar in Colorado, an attendee asked a question I realized I have been answering for many years. The question was, "How many times should a new patient be seen before you present treatment?"

The three most common approaches to new patients are:

(1) New patients enter the practice through hygiene. After the hygiene appointment, they are examined by the dentist and a treatment plan is presented.

(2) New patients enter the practice through the dentist and receive an exam and treatment presentation at their first visit.

(3) New patients enter the practice through the dentist. The dentist has relationship time and performs an exam at the first visit. Patients are rescheduled within 7-10 days for the treatment-presentation appointment.

The third approach is the only one that really works for comprehensive treatment planning. In most cases, new patients cannot build sufficient value in one appointment to judge the practice, judge the dentist, become comfortable in the environment, and accept specific comprehensive treatment recommendations.

The three approaches

Let me step back and explain the pros and cons of each of these approaches.

The first approach (entering through hygiene) seems to be easier for practices that do not have production blocks for scheduling new patients to come to a practice specifically to see the dentist. However, most referrals are what I call soft referrals, where the patient has heard something good about the practice, but has not necessarily built any sense of value. A patient needs to have a relationship with the doctor to accept anything more than the most basic and obvious treatment. When patients are scheduled with the dental hygienist first, the dentist doesn`t have time to build a relationship with them.

The second method (seeing the dentist for an exam and treatment at the first visit) does involve the doctor and allows the doctor to get to know the patient. However, the problem is that the doctor meets the patient and presents treatment all at once. Patients cannot build sufficient value in that first appointment. As a result, treatment acceptance is much lower because patients are overwhelmed. When people are overwhelmed, their reaction is to want to go home and think about it, which often results in reduced case acceptance. One extreme example of this scenario is when doctors present high-level cases in the first meeting with a patient. In this scenario, the patient has not built sufficient trust, so he or she seeks a second opinion. I have seen practices lose many patients by overwhelming them too early in the process.

In the third scenario, the doctor and patient build a relationship at the first visit, and the second visit is reserved for treatment presentation. You can establish a strong relationship in the first visit by learning 10 personal things about each patient, performing an education-oriented comprehensive exam, and answering questions. The patient is then reappointed within 7-10 days to maintain motivation.

A formal and organized treatment presentation appointment allows the doctor to focus on the patient, present the situation, and make clear recommendations. New patients have had an outstanding initial experience, built a sense of value, and are pleased to return to an office that knows and cares about them. It also allows patients to focus on the treatment presentation. A dedicated treatment-presentation appointment - with the proper verbal skills and motivational factors - increases patient case acceptance dramatically.

Summary

Many practices don`t think they can change the way they handle new patients, due to the overwhelming nature of the new-patient process and scheduling problems. Unfortunately, practices taking the first two approaches are experiencing mediocre production from new patients. Practices using the third method experience the best results.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, president and CEO of The Levin Group and the Levin Advanced Learning Institute, provides worldwide leadership in dental management for general dentists and specialists. Contact The Levin Group at (410) 654-1234.

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