Creating the New Patient Experience--Part III
Ten Steps to a Successful New Patient Initial Visit
Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA
Because there is never a second chance to make a first impression, it is critical to properly manage the patient’s initial visit. When a new patient arrives at a practice, it is a tremendous opportunity to initiate a long-term productive relationship based on exceptional customer service and quality dental care. Parts 1 and 2 of this series clarified the considerable impact new patients have on dental practice productivity. This article focuses on the initial new patient visit to the practice.
The Initial New Patient Visit
Management of the initial patient visit demands strong elements of superior customer service and clinical care. The development of step-by-step systems and effective patient communication scripts to guide this process is the best method to guarantee that the practice is able to consistently capitalize on the financial potential introduced by new patients. The following steps should be incorporated to provide optimal service to each new patient during his or her initial visit:
- A front desk staff member anticipates the new patient arrival at a certain time and personally greets the new patient as he or she enters the practice. As the patient enters the office this team member stands up, comes around the front desk into the reception room, and greets the patient with a smile and friendly handshake. A suggested welcome script would be: “Hi. You must be Mr. Jones. I am Julie. I spoke to you on the phone and have been looking forward to meting you.”
- Dental practices should have coffee and tea in reception rooms. While there is a proverbial debate regarding this recommendation, this feature is an important element to begin the process of exemplary customer service. The bottom line is that coffee makes people feel welcome, keeps them comfortable, smells better than eugenol, and creates a friendly atmosphere. That is why the next step is to offer a cup of coffee to a new patient as part of the initial greeting.
- Many practices send patient registration and health history forms in advance of the initial visit. Irrespective of this system, many patients have to fill out forms when they arrive at the practice. Supply patients with the appropriate forms on a comfortable clipboard with an attached pen. Ask the patient to fill out the forms using a script such as: ”Mr. Jones would you be kind enough to fill out just a few forms so that we can do the best job of protecting you? I will be right over here in the front desk area to answer any questions you may have. Please let me know when you are done.”
- All new patients should be taken into the clinical area on time to impress them with the office’s punctuality. This transfer should be managed with the front desk person introducing the new patient to the clinical assistant with a script such as: “Mr. Jones this is Sally. She will be your dental assistant today and will be escorting you to the clinical area.” Sally takes over and greets the patient with a handshake, a smile, and a welcome script. She then escorts the patient to the clinical area providing a tour along the way, pointing out any of the practice’s advanced technologies and consultation rooms. Sally makes it clear that the office enjoys meeting new patients and providing them with excellent care.
- In the process of establishing a long-term relationship with the new patient, the dental assistant transitions into a questioning mode. The assistant’s goal should be to learn at least three personal things about the new patient so that he or she will feel comfortable and begin to develop a working relationship with the assistant.
- Once the assistant has seated the new patient, the dentist enters into the equation. The dental assistant introduces the patient to the doctor who smiles, shakes hands, and initiates the relationship. There are many factors involved in this delicate process (eg, touching the patient on the elbow or the shoulder, sitting down at the same height as the patient to avoid superior or inferior positioning, using relaxed body language) to communicate that the patient is the primary focus during this consultation.
- The dentist then begins to develop his or her own relationship with the patient by actively listening, responding to, and questioning the patient. The goal is to learn a minimum of ten personal items about the patient in order to develop a strong relationship that will lead to better interaction and higher case acceptance. The doctor continues to listen and gradually transitions to the medical or dental history review.
- The next step is to examine the patient. In order to comfortably shift the patient into the clinical phase, the dentist needs to grant the patient complete control by asking for permission. Ask the patient a question such as: “Mr. Jones I would like to begin the examination of your mouth. Is it okay with you if I put back the chair?” Remember, this is an uncomfortable physical position for the patient and the clinician is now entering the patient’s personal space. A touch on the elbow or shoulder will reassure most patients as they are transitioned into the correct clinical position.
- Although it is beyond the scope of this article to review the comprehensive examination, the Levin Group believes that even the exam must be a step-by-step educational process leading to high levels of case acceptance. The average new patient production has been statistically analyzed and is approximately one-third of what it should be in over 90% of practices. The reason for this is that patients frequently are not examined and diagnosed properly. Clinicians cannot simply continue to look for cavities or fractures and consider that a comprehensive examination. Comprehensive periodontal charting, tooth-by-tooth examination, and aesthetic evaluation should be routinely incorporated into the initial patient examination. While dentistry has so much more to offer patients today than ever before, these services cannot be initiated if clinicians do not systematically diagnose and present them as options.
- The dentist uses the comprehensive exam as a unique opportunity to educate the patient, but does not give a final treatment presentation on the first visit. The patient may not be prepared to hear the presentation if a large case and investment is involved. Such patients should be recalled for a second and separate treatment presentation appointment unless only minor areas or treatment are required.
The future success of every clinical practice depends on the clinician’s ability to attract and retain new patients. A detailed initial new patient visit system with supportive scripting for the entire team is a fundamental component of long-term practice productivity and profitability.
*Founder and CEO, Levin Group, Baltimore, Maryland