As a dental professional, you may be familiar with the widely-used adage about not seeing the forest for the trees. Let’s turn this saying on its head, however, for a more practical application in the dental world. Your dental practice is the forest and your patients are the trees in need of attention. With no trees, your forest will fail to thrive.
It may seem self-evident that patients are the lifeblood of a dental practice, but is your practice totally focused on providing a meaningful patient experience? Every member of the dental team can play a crucial role in this patient-centered effort. Dental professionals who perform their functions well become invaluable members of the dental team. Here are some ways you can help transform your dental office into a patient-oriented practice.
Dentists: Set a Patient-Focused Example
As a busy dental care provider, you may often wish you could just treat your patients and go home. Unfortunately, though, unexpected complications can arise with expected regularity. One patient abruptly decides to travel abroad for a year before having a crown placed over a new root canal. Another takes frequent bathroom breaks during an easy two-surface restoration procedure. Still another opts for oral sedation partway through the administration of local anesthesia. And some are just never content with the cosmetic quality of a finished restoration.
You doubtless have many recollections of some of your own difficult patients. Oh, how nice it would be for everyone to just cooperate for one hour! It’s tempting to simply complete the job and leave it at that, but being patient-oriented means that you must keep the focus on your patient’s needs and preferences. As you lead by an example of gentleness and patience, you will create a stronger rapport with both your patients as well as the dental staff.
Keep in mind that a trip to a dental office is seldom an uncomplicated matter. Patients struggle with fears, concerns, financial limitations, and other situations of which you may not even be aware. A little empathy from you as their dentist can go a long way. Patients will come to trust your oral healthcare recommendations knowing that you have their best interests at heart. Set the example for your staff by making patient satisfaction your top office priority. It can make difficult times easier, and will definitely help your practice grow.
Dental Hygienists: Be a Patient Advocate
The dental hygienist is the dental professional patients tend to look to as their personal advocate, because they spend the majority of their appointment time in your chair for cleanings and education. In some cases they may even look to you for verification or explanation of the treatment protocols the doctor recommends.
Take advantage of your unique relationship with your patients – there is much more to the dental hygienist role than just cleaning teeth. Make each recall appointment impactful and educational. When your dental care is patient-focused, you will be more likely to effect positive changes in your patient’s oral hygiene routine. You may even impact their compliance with recommended treatment, which will both improve the patient’s health and boost practice productivity. The experience you provide will lead to an increase in future appointments made at the time of check-out.
Perhaps the biggest impact you can make on a patient’s oral health does not start with spouting periodontal statistics – it could start with your own friendly smile! It means a lot to patients when you spend time just getting to know them. Your positive attitude can help create lifelong relationships with your patients.
Dental Assistants: Enhance the Patient Experience
Dental assistants, your role in creating a patient-oriented practice is more important than you may even realize. You are counted on to help patients feel relaxed and secure. If you don’t pay attention to how a patient is doing, they can easily feel lost or neglected. You likely serve as a spokesperson, of sorts, for the doctor to the patients. Keep these tips in mind for being a successful patient-oriented dental assistant:
- Speak in plain terms to dental patients, but don’t talk down to them.
- Communicate patient needs and concerns to the doctor.
- Be friendly.
- Check with patients to determine if they have any questions or concerns.
- If you don’t have the information to answer a question, ask the dentist.
Front Desk Staff: Pave the Way for a Patient-Centered Practice
The front desk is typically the first contact patients have with a dental practice. Their overall impression of the practice is based on how you work with them to schedule appointments on the phone, and the way they are greeted upon entering the waiting room.
Even with a dentist who is rumored to be the best in town, a cold reception at the front desk can set the wrong tone for the entire appointment. Of course, you are only human and the work you have to manage at the front desk can sometimes feel like a superhuman responsibility. Bad days may happen, but don’t take out your frustrations on the patients. When you make patient needs a priority, you’ll easily find more joy in helping others. Try to minimize some of the stress in your environment and reduce anxiety by:
- Staying organized.
- Communicating clearly with team members.
- Speaking calmly and graciously with all patients.
- Asking others to help out when you’re overwhelmed.
- Smile when you talk to patients – even if it is over the phone.
You can start a patient’s experience off on the right foot by giving them a warm welcome and making their comfort your priority.
Make it a Team Effort
Every single individual on the staff has the ability to influence a patient’s impression of the practice. Each team member is responsible for carrying out his or her role professionally to create a positive patient experience. Treating patients isn’t just about the work done in their mouth – it’s also about how they feel while they’re under your roof!