Knowing why your patients are leaving your dental practice is still a mystery for most of the dental professionals. But these patient-related problems have something in common. These avoidable matters start and end with poor communication, both verbal and nonverbal. The results are angry and unflattering online reviews and patients who leave your practice but, it doesn’t have to be this way. If we improve our communication skills, we can prevent the loss of patients and bypass those embarrassing complaints online.
The problems which you and your business face are multifold. As dental professionals, it’s our job to welcome and work with all of the different types of personalities that walk through our doors. Besides, we have to tailor our speeches or written communication to all individuals to make sure they understand our procedures, office policies, protocols, treatments, philosophies and more. When we don’t achieve that, we run the risk of offending patients, being misleading or misunderstood. In turn, they may display that disagreement or misunderstanding online in public posts or may leave your practice or both.
Time is of value to all. Most people take out time to be in your dental clinic, away from something else that’s important to them and certainly don’t appreciate feeling that their time is wasted.
This is a big one. Some patients believe, accurately or not, that the recommendation they get for their dental health is for something they don’t require.
Patients may feel that the practice doesn’t have their best interests at heart when they’re aggravated with too many sales calls and advertising emails, or if they’re upsold on proposed procedures.
This includes both miscalculations and errors- being billed for procedures not completed, being billed for procedures not covered by dental insurance plans, seeing a price differentiation when compared with the originally quoted price, or not even knowing what the bill is for.
The patient is physically hurt during his or her procedure.
These grievances serve as great catalysts for pushing patients toward finding new dentists. What may surprise you is that most if not all of these online complaints can be countered with appropriate conversations. It doesn’t matter if the matter is why the doctor takes too long or why a bill doesn’t look right. As long as someone in the office takes responsibility of the situation to let patients know that what they’ve encountered is not a standard operating procedure, your practice can earn the opportunity to do better next time.
Now the big question-
What about patients who don’t complain or criticise but don’t return to your clinic? Apart from the reasons discussed above, other justifications as to why your patients leave are below:
A patient never receives a callback after contacting your clinic about making an appointment.
Patients do not apprehend that their appointments do not include a dental “cleaning” and they’re angry they have to revisit your office. Some feel there is a bait and switch involved because this news is a surprise to them.
The office doesn’t accept a patient’s dental insurance plan, or the patient does not follow his or her portion of the bill or co-pay.
Sometimes a problem arises after a patient comes into the clinic with no complications and then experiences pain or some difficulties after treatment.
The dentist’s or the staff’s rude or condescending behaviour could be the major cause of why they are not coming back.
The dentist or staff doesn’t spend enough time with the patient.
The dentist or staff shows no personal interest in the patient.
A patient may feel belittled or uncomfortable by the dentist or staff because of the condition of his or her oral health.
Lack of knowledge of treatment as to why it is recommended or performed, or what problems it is meant to address can also be the reason for the downfall in the footsteps in your clinic.
The staff and dentist speak crudely about other patients or use slang or profanity in front of patients.
Informing new patients about what their first experience in the dental office will be like, either via email or on the phone. The first conversation is the beginning of your relationship, and making a good impact is important. You can also use a script as a guideline if you need to, but take your time, ask the patient questions, and maintain a positive tone of voice. Just as you’re gathering information from your prospective patients, they’re accumulating information about you and your practice.
Do remember to discuss the length of their appointment and the type of imaging to be done (if any), other requirements like patient’s current records from his or her previous dentist, any specific concerns the new patient has, any insurance or payment-related information, history of periodontal disease and prior hygiene protocol and how the person was referred to your office.
For some of your patients visiting the dentist can be nerve-racking and overwhelming, especially when they’re facing complicated procedures. Some patients like to save face by saying that they understand all of the details of their proposed treatment, or that finances are not a concern, when in fact the opposite is true.
Having a dedicated dental consultant appointment in a consultation room, rather than with a patient in the dental chair, will put people at ease and level the playing field. This also offers patients to speak their mind and to ask thoughtful questions. Use this time to fully explain the treatment, cost, and any possible complications.
The appointment starts with you as a dentist. You should always have the patient’s photos and x-rays available to review together as it is much easier to communicate a problem with a picture. Also, remember to use terminology that patients will understand.
As a dentist, you shouldn’t be afraid to warn patients about possible discomfort beforehand. Being truthful from the beginning of the procedure will save you from losing your patients afterwards. Many procedures may result in pain, even when everything goes perfectly.
Dental professionals are health-care practitioners and should act accordingly. Rather than creating the perception that you’re “selling” a service simply identify the problems and concerns and then present the possible solutions. This approach centres the conversation around patient needs, not money. This approach will not only enhance your case acceptance and set aside trust issues, but your patients will be excited to get the help they need.
All these suggestions will give you a good start in fixing how poor communication can sabotage relationships with your clients. Making some changes in the way you present your dental practice, communicate and speak to patients can right these wrongs. Keep in mind- patient’s experiences are what matters the most if you want to retain them and have them post positive feedback online. Taking the time to make sure your communication is clear and comprehensive will certainly give you happier patients and a healthier practice.
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