Bonding Patients To Your Practice

Without a trusting relationship, patients won`t be accepting treatment plans on your word alone. Without a healthy relationship, your patients are just temporary visitors.

Without a trusting relationship, patients won`t be accepting treatment plans on your word alone. Without a healthy relationship, your patients are just temporary visitors.

Steven G. Blank, DDS

Would you like to practice free from the influence of insurance companies? You can, but to do it - and be successful - you must build a relationship-based practice.

Many of us would like to be there, but the road is not paved for everyone to follow. We each must decide what road we want to pave, and then follow it. When we fail Would you like to practice free from the influence of insurance companies? You can, but to do it - and be successful - you must build a relationship-based practice.

Many of us would like to be there, but the road is not paved for everyone to follow. We each must decide what road we want to pave, and then follow it. When we fail to choose our destiny, we are giving away a tremendous amount of power to those that will end up making the decisions for us - i.e., the government, insurance companies, and your patients.

We each choose the staff we work with and the way we interact with staff and patients. These interactions or relationships are the foundation of a successful "private care" dental practice. Without a trusting relationship, patients won`t be accepting treatment plans on your word alone. They will want to "see what insurance covers" to make their decisions.

Without a healthy relationship, your patients are not really your patients; they are just temporary visitors in your office. They happily will go wherever some third-party payer tells them to go if they can save a buck. For them, the relationship has no value. The only measure they know is the dollar. The patient is not to blame. We trained patients to be this way with our own behavior in the past. We trained them to wait and see what insurance pays. If your relationship is poor with your staff, your patients will know it.

If you visit an auto shop that treats you like a number (Sears for example), and receive average care by nice people, how bonded do you feel? Would you try Goodyear next time if you were told that you could save a few bucks? What if the auto shop was your family`s business? What would it take to get you to take your car somewhere else? Your patients need to feel like they are a part of your dental family. They need to be bonded to your practice, so third-party influence will be minimal.

How do you build this trust? How do you establish a relationship with a stranger? Make a good first impression! By the time the patient sees you for the first time, he or she already has talked to your receptionist twice, met your dental assistant, and maybe sat in your waiting room. Do you know what your staff is saying? Do they know what you want conveyed to the patient? Are you just hoping you have the right personality at the front desk ... or is this first visit scripted? A good topic for your next staff meeting might be "Initial Patient Contact." To get their staffs involved, dentists need to have a vision of what they want and share it with the staff.

Staff members need your direction, but do allow them to express their ideas. If ideas only come from you, the dentist, good luck getting compliance when you are not looking. You might have a vision, but the only place you will see it is in your mind. If you are not sure of a good approach to the first visit, start by paying attention to how you are treated everywhere you go! Become an observer and take notes of what you like and don`t like. Ask your staff to do this next month and share all of the positive ideas.

Create a positive and negative list of your current first-visit procedures. This may require individuals to change their behavior, including the dentist! The dentist must be open to constructive criticism. This is a team project. You cannot expect your front-desk staff to fix this one alone. What if the assistant answers the phone? What happens when staff members change? Wouldn`t it be nice o know that consistency is there? This effort should be focused on the patients that you want to see. Patient screening to avoid adding patients to the practice that want bargains needs to be in place. Screening is an entirely different subject.

What do you do when a new patient comes in? Don`t be late! Are you frustrated that your patients are late? Stop teaching them to be this way! Be on time and tell them that you will be on time; they are not used to that concept! Train them from the very first visit. The relationship begins with initial phone contact. Systems need to be in place to handle the initial call in a pleasant, organized, and professional manner. A new-patient welcoming packet can be mailed to the patient ahead of time with information about the dentist, staff, mission statement, and office policies. All new patients should be given a tour of the office and made familiar with the facilities and the staff. If you are doing positive things, don`t keep it a secret. Tell your patients what you do.

Can you build trust by immediately putting patients in a dental chair almost upside down? Start all new patients in your private office, sitting up. Review their concerns first, then do the health history. Dental relationship-building is like dating. You start by getting to know each other (initial interview, dental and medical history); then, you can have some physical contact (clinical examination, full-mouth periodontal measurements, study models, and radiographs).

The key to success is not just listening, but making sure patients feel like someone listened to them. The most common complaint that my patients voice is "the lack of time and listening that their doctors spend" with them. They don`t complain that their doctor attended a certain school or even about the quality of treatment. After they have been listened to, it is a great time to share the office philosophy of private care. Let them know that your office is different, or they may not know. In addition, I let my patients know what I will do and what is expected of them, including plaque control, commitment to appointments, and our financial policy. I ask them about their family and tell them about mine.

Before the patient ever sits in a dental chair, a major portion of the relationship has been established. The patient begins to feel like he/she is part of your office family. Excellent technical skills haven`t even come into play yet. Patients have no clue if you attended the best continuing-education courses in the country or if you attended dental school by mail. They do know if they like you. They may be ready to listen to you. They may be ready to become involved in the examination and treatment-planning process. You either made a friend or you didn`t. People who had traumatic dental experiences or lost trust in their last dentist will need more time sitting and talking before they trust you to proceed.

My staff has timed my interviews at 25-30 minutes. A few more minutes at the beginning saves hours of miscommunication later. This requires planning with the scheduling. You don`t want to be interrupted with a new patient (or any patient). I will see only one new patient per day or less. Plans that require you to see more than 15-20 new patients a month won`t allow you to build this type of relationship. When patients accept and want complete treatment, you don`t need to start 30 or 40 new patients. You cannot do two or three thorough initial interviews per day and still survive financially. You may be too busy to do this tomorrow, so plan for the future ... or it will be the same as yesterday!

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