Simple Tips for Improving the Dental Patient Experience

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Let’s face it, a dental visit for some patients can be rather stress-inducing. For the fearful and anxious patients, a dental appointment is not their idea of a great way to spend an afternoon. Even the seasoned dental patient who doesn’t have any anxiety or fear issues may not be totally thrilled about spending time in the dental operatory.

In 2020, patients are easily able to seek access to affordable and excellent health care and self-care that suits their wants and needs. So how do you stand out and make your patient experience one that captures and keeps patients you want? Review your current practices involving your dental office and see if the patient experience you offer is living up to your standards or if it may need some tweaking.

Some standard dental visits may resemble this:

  • Patient checks in at the front desk either verbally or by the sign-in sheet.
  • Patient waits in the reception area for their name to be called.
  • Patient is ushered back to the operatory for little small talk and health review while being draped with a bib and leaned back.
  • As the procedure begins, the patient stares off into space or counts the ceiling tiles, sighs, hands gripping the armrest, waiting for their time in the chair to be over.

Sound like fun? I don’t think so. I am going to introduce a few concepts and ideas that can help transform your patients’ dental experience into one that patients can look forward to!

Where to Transform

First, the patients’ experience or impression of you starts before they ever step foot in the office. The best-case scenario is that a patient who loves you as their dental provider has given you a rock star review and referred this patient to you.

Word of mouth referrals are wonderful! But, in case that didn’t happen, how are you advertising? Is your sign freshly painted and easily seen from the road? Does it include your phone number? How is your Google ad? Are you at the top?

Are you featured in local publications? Is your staff responsible for answering the phones trained and knowledgeable? What about your website? Does it include a virtual tour of your office, with biographies of the dentist(s) and staff? Does your office’s website have a patient portal that allows patients to request or make appointments or fill out new patient forms?

Are you using the patients’ preferred method for confirmations? In this tech world, a lot of patients prefer text messages or emails rather than a phone call. Are you using social media to attract patients or keep current patients interested in what’s happening with your office and their dental care?

All of these can be great tools to help you put your best foot forward when patients are contacting you. Make sure you are sending the message you want.

Upgrading the Office Visit

The patient has contacted your office and hopefully is greeted warmly by your reception staff either in person, on the phone, or via email, making an appointment. Now what? Whether you are aiming for a “dental spa” feel or more of a warm home feeling for the office, I cannot stress this enough, please make sure your office is clean! No trash on the floor, windows are free of smudges, the bathroom is tidy with plenty of paper towels and toilet tissue, and no food or drink at the reception desk.

If your sterilization area is visible to patients, make sure that it is tidy also, don’t allow any soiled gauze or instruments sitting out, or used cassettes/handpieces hanging around on the counters. Out of sight, out of patients’ minds.

Once the patient enters your office, they should be greeted in person by your reception staff. Many offices offer refreshments in the form of water, tea, or coffee. Some even have freshly baked cookies onsite for patients while they wait or after their visit. The Wi-Fi password for your patients can be mounted in a cute frame that is easily seen, allowing patients to log on to their phones and either answer emails, play games, cruise social media sites, listen to music, or watch videos.

Also consider adding monitors in your waiting room that can play short advertising clips for products/services you offer, as well as interesting dental trivia or to promote your in-office specials. For patients who prefer to “unplug,” have a variety of the latest magazines available for reading. For young patients or patients that bring young children, you may want to designate a specific kid’s area with books and quiet games.

All these little extras help to make a patient feel welcomed and comfortable as they wait. Try to keep wait time to five minutes or less. It’s important to respect their time and, in turn, they should respect yours by being on time for their appointments. If your patient is a new patient, I recommend a tour by your assistant or hygienist as the patient is brought back to the operatory. You can obviously point out the consultation area, patient bathroom, and make mention of how many operatories and dentists are on staff.

This is also a great time to highlight any areas that you are especially proud of, such as the ability to take cone beam radiographs, new operatory, an inhouse lab where crowns can be completed in a day, water filtration system, etc. Brag a little.

Pampered in the Chair

Once the patient is seated, so many things can be offered to help them feel pampered and cared for. For the new patient, this includes a thank-you gift for choosing to come to you for their dental needs. It can be as simple as a tumbler with your logo on it.

In addition, a heated neck pillow, soothing lip balm, massaging chair, weighted blanket, noise-canceling headphones, and tinted glasses help ease anxieties. Many offices use essential oils diffused throughout the air to help erase the “dental smells,” and patients can watch their favorite television show during their appointment on TVs mounted on or near the ceiling, and warm lavender-scented towels can be offered when treatment is finished to help patients freshen up.

Anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed for the highly fearful dental patient, and the use of nitrous oxide can be helpful also. A new trend that is catching on is the option of an onsite therapy dog to help alleviate fears and tension during treatment. There are certain requirements that must be met in order to have a therapy animal in your office, and all states do not allow for this. So be sure to check the laws in your state.

For the offices that are more of a dental spa and have additional staff or cross-trained staff, other added perks can be wide-ranging and include:

  • The opportunity to have a complimentary mini-massage prior to their procedure with the option of a paid full massage afterward
  • Hand or foot scrubs or paraffin wax treatments
  • Possibly Botox, acupuncture, facials, eyelash boost or reflexology

The possibilities are numerous but will mainly depend on your practice size, demographics, and staff. Discuss it with your dental comrades and decide if any of these ideas are ones that you want to add to your services. Not only can it help the patients feel comfortable and want to return, but it can also be added income for your business.

Farewell

At the conclusion of the dental appointment, most patients are anxious to get out of the office and become annoyed at having to wait to make their payment and schedule additional appointments.

I recommend scheduling at the beginning of the appointment if it is a routine hygiene procedure. Then, unless there is an additional restorative visit needed, you have that out of the way. Some offices also collect payment upfront for the patient’s responsibility, allowing them to skip the front desk at the end of their visit.

Making the patient experience one that wows your patients is very much a business tactic meant to increase patient retention and capture new patients with the effort you put into it. Because these added perks are not standard yet, you are able to make a huge impression on patients that will hopefully, in turn, shout your name from the social media rooftops and cause your patient numbers to skyrocket. Good luck!

Now Listen to the Today’s RDH Dental Hygiene Podcast Below:

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Kim Kiser, RDH
Kim Kiser, RDH, whose career spans over 30 years, looks forward to sharing tips and topics that other fellow hygienist may find helpful, funny, and educational in their pursuit of ultimate care of their patients. A 1992 graduate of Trident College, Kim has a passion for educating patients with the best and most up to date products and techniques available, so patients fully understand how to properly be the best advocate in the care of their own oral health. Kim is a mother of 2, with one granddaughter, and resides in the beautiful North Georgia mountains with her husband, Mark. Outside of her love for dentistry, Kim also enjoys baking, gardening, painting, and enjoying all the beauty North Georgia has to offer.