The Relationship with the Dental Patient is Everything

By Tawana Coleman

Retain your first visit patients by building a relationship they won’t want to break.

 Many dentists I encounter are like kids in a candy store when it comes to the excitement they feel about treating new patients. Each new patient is an opportunity for them to beautify and repair another smile. During this eager first visit, dentists usually can’t help but outline a complete dental plan for the new patient. They then send the patient to the financial coordinator to discuss payment and scheduling further appointments. This candy store like excitement is shattered, however, when dentists find out their new patients aren’t coming back.

Dental offices in the South call these one-time encounters “one fers” because the patient only came “for one” visit. When I find out how many “one fers” an office has experienced, first I ask if the patient saw the benefits, then I ask about co-discovery. Did the patient truly desire the treatment? Did the patient understand the value of the treatment? Sometimes in the midst of their candy store excitement, dentists and their staffs forget about building a relationship with the person in the chair.

It’s truly amazing and disturbing to see such low patient retention in so many offices. This low retention is a symptom of a larger problem – the lack of proper relationship building.

Most auxiliary staff members say the “one fer” problem stems from the patient being blown away with the diagnosis and cost of treatment. Patients leave without scheduling and say they want to think about it or discuss it with a spouse. If this is common in your practice, proper relationships are likely not being cultivated. People do business with those people that they like and trust. Since many people are leery about going to the dentist in the first place, putting the patients at ease and building relationships with them should be of utmost importance. Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence says, “When one talks about the importance of customer service, nothing is more important than the word RELATIONSHIP. . . . The relationship is everything.”

Who then should be responsible for building relationships with the patients? The dentist? YES! The hygienist? YES! The clinical auxiliaries? YES! The business auxiliaries? YES! Everyone plays a key role. An office has only one opportunity to begin this rapport-building process. Get to know your patients, learn to listen to them with your heart and your ears, and you will really hear what they are saying. This may mean you need to learn how to both actively and reflectively listen to your patients. Additionally, you need to learn to empathize with your patients and then they’ll know that you care. The most successful dentists have learned these skills and trained their staff members to do the same.

Time spent in building new relationships, however, should not replace the time it takes to maintain relationships with established patients. Many offices that have raised fees or changed office procedure regarding insurances report that they have lost patients. Again I believe the loss is a direct result of the lack of relationships with these established patients.

Many offices market to new patients. Therefore, they should perceive each new patient as an opportunity. Make every opportunity count and get to know your patients. Find out how many “one fers” you have now and then check again in a few months once you start building relationships. Do not skip this initial introduction. It is vital! Building relationships that will last a lifetime really only takes minutes of you and your staff turning off the world to listen. I promise you will be ecstatic about the results. ■

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Tawana Coleman is a practice development trainer to the Dr. Dick Barnes Group.