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Creating the New Patient Experience--Part IV

The Second Visit

New patients significantly impact a practice’s ability to grow and achieve productivity and profitability goals.1 The final installment in this series addresses the second new patient visit to the practice. This milestone initiates a long-term relationship with the practice and signifies the transition from a new patient to a permanent patient status.

It is critical to have patients recalled for a separate consultation.2 Unless the patient presents with minor concerns, every new patient who is facing a fee over $1,000 should be recalled for a treatment presentation. The time between visits should not exceed 7 to 10 days in order to maintain high motivational levels.

A separate visit allows the patient to focus on his or her dental care in a more familiar environment, to be greeted by a familiar team, and to spend quality time with the dentist. These variables allow patients to develop a higher level of trust and be more receptive to treatment recommendations. Too many practices overwhelm new patients during the first visit, and patients simply cannot handle it. When people go on overload, they become paralyzed and go home to think about it. The problem is that once they leave the dental practice, their motivation begins to wane, and they rarely follow through with treatment. Statistics show that 30% of patients presented with $1,000 or more in dental treatment who leave the practice without scheduling a second appointment will not return to begin the treatment. Obviously, this statistic comes at a steep cost in production and profitability to the practice.

 

Five Steps to a Successful Second New Patient Visit

The patient’s second visit to the practice must be systematically and effectively managed so as to achieve optimal results. In order to ensure success, the clinician should invite key decision makers to join in the discussion, use effective case presentation tools, clearly and concisely present treatment options, actively listen to patients, and request patient commitment.

 

Invite Key Decision Makers

The clinician should address the patient and any key decision makers (eg, spouse) who will influence treatment selection. They key decision maker is a critical component of case acceptance for large and elective cases. The Levin Group is currently conducting statistical analysis of the impact of the key decision maker, and preliminary findings are that this individual has a tremendous influence on case acceptance—far more than was expected. Inviting key decision makers to participate in a formal case presentation both reassures that patient and significantly impacts treatment choices.

 

Utilize Effective Case Presentation Tools

The dentist should sit down in either a clinical or consultation setting and present an overview of the case. Visual aids (eg, software, physical models) will allow the patient to evaluate, touch, and visualize the proposed treatment results. In this high tech world, a set of models is still incredibly impressive and of great interest to patients.

 

Clearly Present the Case

The dentist should outline the case in stages (ie, periodontal, restorative, prosthetics, aesthetics). The important thing is not to simply lay everything out as equal or convey the message that all treatment phases are immediately essential. Patients will be overwhelmed even with moderate cases running in the range of $4,000. While some clinicians may not consider $4,000 to be an exorbitant fee, this sum is often perceived as large by patients. Be aware of this and be careful not to present too much too soon with no explanation of priorities or phases.

 

Actively Listen to Patients

The clinician should present each phase of the case using active listening skills. Questions should be asked every 10 to 12 sentences to maintain an interactive dialogue. Clinicians should smile as the treatment is presented and be aware of body language. Dentists should lean forward and sound energized when presenting dental care, rather than appear bored or disinterested. Lack of enthusiasm communicates that there is no sense of urgency and that the dentist does not really believe the procedures are mandatory or exciting. Many patients judge the value of the dentistry and the clinician’s skills based on his or her enthusiasm. Most people make decisions based on emotions and not on logic, while many dentists make most presentations based on logic, not emotion.

 

Request patient Commitment

The dentist must always ask the patient for his or her level of commitment. A simple question can make all the difference. “Would you like to have this done?” This is, quite frankly, a key question and many people will respond in the affirmative. Simply asking the question prompts the decision-making process for many people. At this point when patients accept treatment, the dentist should reinforce that this is an excellent choice, quickly restate the benefits, and explain to the patient that an expert in financial options in the practice will be brought in to review what financial options are best for the patient.

 

Conclusion

Each step of the new patient experience must have an effective system focused on delivering excellent clinical care and customer service. It is critical to develop scripts that effectively communicate these benefits to patients. Case presentations and new patient visits are all about selling (ie, education plus motivation). The classic trap is that most dentists overeducate and undermotivate their patients.

While most practices do have a high case acceptance on basic restorative dentistry, single-unit, and even three0unit fixed partial dentures, comprehensive treatment opportunities (eg, periodontics) in which patients do not understand or experience pain, or optimal care elective procedures (eg, implants) are often lost. Remember that the highest potential group for comprehensive dentistry is new patients. Manage them well so as to capitalize on this unequaled growth opportunity for the practice.

 

*Founder and CEO, Levin Group, Baltimore, Maryland

References:

  1. Levin RP. Creating the new patient experience – Part I. Pract Proced Aesthet Dent 2003;15(5):388-390.
  2. Levin RP. The new patient experience – Part III: Ten steps to a successful new patient initial visit. Pract Proced Aesthet Dent 2003;15(7):543-544.
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