Everyone wants happy patients…including the patient! Practices implement many and varied routines to aid in the happy patient, such as fresh coffee, aromatherapy and strong customer service. And I encourage all of it. But THE MOST effective way to make your patient happy is to set their expectations!
We all assess our experiences in accordance to the expectations we have set. If you go along to Pizza Hut for dinner your expectations of food quality and ambiance will be lower to that of an exclusive restaurant. So when your experience is that of a standard meal and noisy surroundings, you are still satisfied. If you were delivered that same standard at the high end restaurant, however, you would be dis-satisfied.
So to if you embarked upon a backpacking holiday over a resort styled vacation. You can imagine that you would be upset to happen upon cheaper accommodation when you were expecting something plush. And your upset wouldn’t necessarily be because you refuse to be comfortable in anything but the best hotel; of course you stay anywhere where there is sturdy shelter, amenities and a bed. You would be upset because you were expecting a different experience.
This is the case with your dental patients. In fact it is quite difficult for your patients to even set their expectations of a dental appointment. Unless it is regular recall visit, dental treatments vary widely in terms of discomfort, appointment length, instruments and equipment to be used, and of course cost. Unless your practice lets the patient know what to prepare for, they will be left to guess. Then the minute they experience something that is their mind averse to what they thought would happen, they will become unhappy.
So where are your opportunities for setting expectations?
If it is a new patient or emergency patient, the initial explanation of what to expect comes from the receptionist. Giving an indication of length of appointment and potential cost is crucial, especially when the patient has not attended your clinic before.
Once the patient is in the treatment room, the dentist and nurse can use this chance to explain to the patient what is included in that appointment. My advice to all dentists is to have the conversation with the patient before they are reclined back in the chair. Sit across from them at the same eye level. In a relaxed manner, explain to the patient what will happen and then ask the patient if they have anything to discuss before starting. Once the dental issue has been examined, sit the patient back up and discuss the details with them so they can more easily understand what is being said and can then make a decision to continue with the elected option for treatment.
Checking in with the patient is such an important step in setting realistic expectations. If the patient is a new patient or has arrived for unplanned treatment, such as a broken tooth, ASK the patient what they are expecting from the appointment. Because they have booked a time with you for a troubling tooth, you assume they also want you to treat it straight away. However it is possible they want an assessment now, and then plan for the treatment for a future date so they can arrange time off work/finances etc.
You must create the environment for the patient to open up in order for you to understand what is in their head.
The expectations for any planned treatment the patient is to return for are to be explained by the clinical team in the surgery and also followed up by reception. We have all experienced the situation of the patient coming out to the front desk and asked whether they need to make a follow-up visit and they say ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ when the clinical staff have just explained everything to them. There are many reasons why patients are not fully engaged in the surgery conversations, so it is up to the whole dental team to ensure that there is consistent information about what the patient should expect at their next visit.
Patients expect of their health provider more than just treatment. They also expect advice, support and reassurance. Build all of these elements in to your communication with patients and they will leave HAPPY!