Patient’s Point of View – What Patients Consider When Choosing One Clinic Over Another 

As COVID-19 continues to rage around us, we have slowly begun to sink into our new normal.  My new normal has been changing ever since our cases here started going up. I haven’t been able to see my hairstylist, my doctor, or my dentist. Mask-wearing has become essential to my safety and the safety of those around me.  

However, I know that once get back into my regular routine, I will have my expectations, especially at the dental office. In the meantime, it is important to remember that you’re not just a dentist but a patient, and for this particular post, you will need to take the scrubs off and think as a patient as you learn what patients consider when choosing one clinic over another and what are some the worst and best experiences that can make this decision very easy.  

Think about these questions as if you were a patient: What makes a practice a good practice? What do you look for when it comes to finding the right dentist? What elements are a no-no for you and what are your deal breakers? What are your worst and best experiences and how do they shape your decision? 

Thinking of these questions as a patient can provide some real insight into how you run your practice now and what you can do to make sure your practice is a practice even you as a patient would choose over the others. 

The Worst Experiences 

Being ignored 

On my journey to find the right dentist, I came across this one pet peeve a lot. Surprisingly more than I expected. Being ignored by the front staff is one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. Approaching the desk only to have a clipboard handed to me and the words “fill this out” followed by absolutely no eye contact is a deal breaker for me. I like to be recognized as a person and not just a dollar sign, no matter where I go, but especially when it comes to health care professionals.  

I want to be able to trust not just my dentist but their staff and being ignored the minute I walk into the office makes for an incredibly bad impression and a very easy decision.  

Lack of empathy 

Empathy leads to a feeling of trust and security, and if a dentist or a hygienist or an assistant does not have the capacity for empathy, the dread of going to see that dentist triples. Usually, that results in a high rate of attrition.  

I have experienced a lack of empathy at its finest, especially with dentists who have never gone through what I’ve gone through and refuse to put themselves in my shoes. For example, my first dental procedure went terrible. I told the dentist how sensitive my gag reflex was and he just dismissed it and his assistant clipped the dental dam onto my wisdom tooth. I couldn’t stop gagging. Eventually, the assistant had to remove the dental dam, however, the clip stayed on. It was an accident, but because I could feel it, I started freaking out. She finally removed it.  

If they had only listened to my concern in the first place and practiced a little empathy, everything might’ve been fine. Now, my new dentist takes my situation into account and I have a good appointment every time.  

In researching a few other experiences, I came across one that caught my eye. A patient was getting a hygienist cleaning done and the cleaning was so painful, they had to ask the hygienist to stop. When the patient mentioned the issue they were having, the hygienist just said that it was due to not having a cleaning in a while. No empathy whatsoever. That comment prompted the patient to seek a cleaning from another office where they did not experience pain like that.  

In both these cases, if empathy and understanding from the staff had been practiced, these situations could have gone in a more positive direction. If you are seeing reviews like this for your clinic, it might be time to take a step back and think less like a doctor and more like a patient.   

No follow up 

No one wants to feel like they are nothing more than a dollar sign to their dentist, that’s why receiving a follow up after a procedure is so important.  

With my previous dentist, I never received so much as an email asking about my experience and if there was anything that I felt needed to be addressed. I just thought this was normal, so I didn’t say anything, but I did feel like they didn’t really care about my oral health or my well-being.  

It’s not enough to just send out recall or appointment reminders every six – nine months. Customer service does not end as soon as the patient leaves the office. To provide that extra bit of human service, the follow up does wonders. I received a follow up on my previous procedure, and it was a good thing too, because something had gone wrong and I needed to go back in to have it addressed.  

Providing a follow up does more than just confirm that the procedure went well, it also lets your patients know that you actually care about them and their oral health, and that you put it first above the money you make off those procedures.  

Obvious Upselling 

With my previous dentist, upselling was not an issue I came across, but I have experienced that pressure when it came to ‘tooth whitening’ or ‘braces’. Now, both are expensive and it’s just not something I can afford, so when I’m berated for turning them down, again, I feel like I’m not a patient but a customer in a department store being harassed by a salesperson who works on commission.  

In my research, I came across another patient experience involving this particular issue. The patient was being pushed into purchasing a ‘tooth whitening kit’ even though their gums were sensitive, and this would make that situation worse. But… on the other hand, the kit is on sale!  

The patient knew then he wasn’t sticking with that dentist. Upselling in that way, without even considering the effects, just because the kit is on sale, is a good way to lose patients. No one wants to feel pressured into buying something – no matter the item. Bringing empathy into the equation, take a moment to consider your own feelings when your being pressured to buy something that is either out of your price range or not useful to you. How do you react?  

Now, what if your dentist was doing this? If you have been through something like this, you too understand how this makes you feel – not like a patient but an opportunity for a sale. 

The Best Experiences 

Patient service that goes above and beyond 

To start, a perfect dental visit starts with the front staff and how friendly and willing to answer questions they are. It is also important that the one behind the front desk is well informed about what’s going with your dentist, the procedure, time, date, insurance, cost, etc. And if they aren’t informed on something that they are able to direct patients to the person in the office who is.  

A smile also goes a long way when it comes to patient care, in addition to a friendly attitude. For example, my most recent experience (before the pandemic) was that before my appointment, the receptionist there was able to answer my questions, let me know how long it would be, and who would be coming to get me. She smiled, asked me how I was doing and if I needed anything.  

My first experience was an emergency for a chipped tooth and I had to have my records transferred over to the new office. They couldn’t have been more prompt about it, allowing for me to get my emergency chipped tooth checked and fixed that day. Not only that, but because I wasnt able to fill out my medical information online, the receptionist showed me to a computer in the waiting room and even offered to answer any questions I had about the form. It was so simple and probably the best experience at a dental office Id ever had.   

If this all sounds like a given to you, then you’re doing this right and kudos to you for providing your patients with excellent patient care every time.    

Punctuality 

I never thought of this as a deal breaker, but with the pandemic and our new normal changing how we check in at some dental offices, this item has definitely moved up the list of reasons for choosing a certain practice over another. Punctuality is essential to the overall experience at a dental office, whether it’s for a procedure, a cleaning, or just a checkup.  

Nobody likes to wait. If you find your patience waning as you sit in the waiting room at a medical clinic and it’s already a half hour past your appointment, you know exactly what I mean. A dentist or hygienist being punctual means everything, especially during this time 

In my case, in the hot summer, waiting in my car to be called for my appointment, it is even more crucial that my dentist is punctual. I can’t exactly leave my car running or I waste gas, and if you’ve ever sat in a hot car for more than a few minutes, you know that it can get overwhelming.  

Ensure punctuality is at the top of your list when it comes to making your practice more attractive to prospective patients. Because it will definitely be at the top of theirs.    

Extra assistance in the chair 

In addition to an empathetic staff, I have really been able to set apart those dental clinics I would choose over ones I wouldn’t, based on extra assistance in the chair. Now, after I left my previous dentist, I learned a few things: their office was not giving their best, their open hours left something to be desired, and they practiced little to no empathy.  

But one other thing I learned was that they could’ve been doing so much more for the patients in the chair. Extra assistance in the chair, such as sunglasses to reduce the amount of blinding light in the eyes, opportunity to listen to your own music (or in my case, a podcast), or a mounted TV to watch the news or a show, is the perfect way to reduce the amount of stress and anxiety a patient might be feeling in that moment. According to my dentist, they allow their patients to listen to something other than the buzzing and grinding of their dental tools. For me, this was perfect! While they worked, I listened to my podcast on low and forgot all about what was happening in my mouth at the time.  

I dreaded going to the dentist, now I feel better about it. I don’t have anxiety attacks the week/days/hours before anymore.  

If your own dentist isn’t doing this for you and you find anxiety creeping up before an appointment, let your dentist know how much extra assistance in the chair helps. And if you haven’t yet done so in your office, it’s definitely time to implement it.   

Patient Education 

My favorite part about my dental visits is how much I learn while I’m in the chair, either doing a cleaning or having a procedure done. Research on this suggests I’m not the only one preferring the dentist or hygienist tell me what they’re doing step-by-step. I’d rather be in the know than not, especially when it comes to a different procedure.  

But I also appreciate the tips my dentist gives me when it comes to brushing, flossing, what brush to use or not use, and how I can prevent cavities. Opportunity for patient education is the one thing that can help a patient reduce the amount of emergency visits and two-hour cleanings that should’ve only taken forty-five minutes. 

According to a patient’s review, their dentist made them feel like he truly cared about them and their oral health by providing that education, but that they felt they were given the opportunity to make up their own mind about next steps. They didn’t feel pressured into buying anything or getting a pointless procedure done. 

Patient education is what is going to ensure a higher case acceptance because the more your patients know and the more you educate them, the more trust they will have in you that you have their best interests at heart.  

I did base this off my own experiences and the experiences of patients from different offices all over the country. This further proves that online reviews are crucial to your success and that you should keep a close eye on what patients are saying, positive and negative, to help improve the patient care in your office. If you want to learn more about the importance of online reviews, check out my previous blog posthttps://maxidentsoftware.com/understanding-the-importance-of-online-reviews-for-your-office/ 

Remember that the best way to improve your own attitude in the office towards your patients is to walk a mile in their shoes and keep in mind that you are a patient too.  

On Thursday, look out for my new blog post: COVID-19 Update: Facts and Fictions. There are some interesting NEW fictions you should really be aware of.