The universal patient concerns you should not ignore

The belief that our “high-quality services” are the most effective and professional way to attract patients has been drummed into the members of our profession for so long that it has become a marketing maxim. But it may be worthwhile to reconsider this advice.

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Don G. Asmus, DDS

The belief that our “high-quality services” are the most effective and professional way to attract patients has been drummed into the members of our profession for so long that it has become a marketing maxim. But it may be worthwhile to reconsider this advice.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the admirable intention to deliver services of high quality. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible for most people to recognize high-quality dentistry, so they choose a dentist for more self-centered reasons. And those reasons decisively impact the success of every dental practice.

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Therefore, we must stop trying to attract patients by focusing on the issues that dentists consider to be most important, and examine the mind-set of our patients. That change in perspective is the key to an enviable competitive advantage.

When patients are in our offices, they study our behavior like hawks. They correctly understand that they are unqualified to judge the quality of the treatment they receive. So they scrutinize the ways in which we address their most heartfelt issues. I call them the universal patient concerns: their feelings, finances, and time.

Trying to please every patient in every situation only leads to frustration and failure. It is much easier to prepare just a few memorable demonstrations that will have patients enthusiastically telling their friends and family, “Wow, that’s more like it.”

The surest way to attract and retain patients is to continually demonstrate that we fully understand, and are uniquely capable of alleviating, their universal concerns.

Whenever we interact with patients, it’s the quality of our performance that’s the crucial component in successfully promoting ourselves. We must be performers, not look-alike providers! The top performers continually hammer home a single message during each patient encounter: we not only share your deepest concerns, but we persuasively show you—with just a few easy, inexpensive gestures—that we know how to resolve them.

There is a huge bonus when that message is repeatedly sent and received. When you convince patients that you can be trusted to unfailingly relieve their universal concerns, they will automatically assume that you must be doing everything else equally well. And that includes your “high-quality” technical skills. There is no need to knock yourself out trying to achieve total practice perfection.

I would suggest that you concentrate your demonstrations in the areas where others in our profession often go astray. The next few examples highlight the simple little signals that patients never fail to notice and appreciate.

Personally apologize whenever you run late. Whenever patients swap complaints about their health-care professionals, this is what you repeatedly hear: “They always make you wait, and they never apologize!” Those patients obviously received the message that the doctor’s time is more valuable than theirs, because the doctor is a more valuable person than any of them. What a great way to alienate the people we depend upon for our livelihood. Yet this same offensive message continues to be sent (and resentfully received) every day.

But there is good news. Most patients will graciously accept your face-to-face apology on more than one occasion. They’re so conditioned to the absence of an apology from the doctor that it’s music to their ears whenever you make the effort. So keep singing their song. They can’t get enough of it.

Greet patients as if they just arrived at your home. Here is another extremely common way to guarantee that an appointment starts off on the wrong foot. Patients are seated in the reception room. A staff member calls out “Mr. Gomer” from the reception room door, then quickly turns away and takes off for places unknown. Mr. Gomer, cursing under his breath, gathers up his belongings and tries his best to keep pace.

This staff member has provoked a sleeping bear. But an assistant who has been trained to put on a courteous performance would have walked up to Mr. Gomer’s chair, delivered a friendly welcome, offered any needed assistance, and behaved as if she was genuinely glad to see him. A performance like that grabs the attention of other patients, who know a social media moment when they see one.

Give good explanations using homemade visual aids. Since most patients are largely unaware of the anatomy, physiology, and pathology that underlies their problem, they love to receive explanations directly from the doctor. It is good practice to create a variety of visual aids for the conditions you most often treat. However, conveying information is not the primary aim of these sessions. Patients may not remember your explanations, but they will always remember that you cared enough to personally prepare your visuals and spend some of your precious time with them.

Tell your best patients how much you appreciate them. Send a handwritten note to about five patients each week that says, “I just wanted to let you know that the staff and I agree that you are one of our favorite patients.” This plays on the fact that people find it hard not to like someone who obviously likes them. Due to the ever-present avalanche of emails, your handwritten messages will really stand out.

Follow the path of your patients. The majority of your competitors make the mistake of sneaking in and out of their offices through a staff entrance. If they occasionally took the patient’s path, right from the street to the operatory, they would discover problems such as signage that is blocked by plant overgrowth, holes in their parking lot or sidewalk, their trophy car on display in the best parking spot, back-breaking patient seating, or a sign like this one in a urologist’s office: “Take a number for better service.”

Fortunately, the majority of your competitors do not demonstrate to patients that they have carefully analyzed the best ways to cater to their universal concerns, and then turned their findings into patient-pleasing actions. Therefore, your competitors will continue to ensure that your performer’s practice will remain strikingly different . . . and enormously attractive.

1808deasm M01Don G. Asmus, DDS, had a long career in dentistry as an endodontist, management consultant, practice administrator, lecturer, and author. Now retired, he still enjoys writing articles about simple, inexpensive marketing methods that are predictably successful because they are based upon unalterable human nature. Dr. Asmus lives in Delmar, New York, and may be reached at

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