I Went to the Dentist and Was Reminded of What It’s Like to Be a Patient – Advanced Power Coaching for Physical and Occupational Therapists

I Went to the Dentist and Was Reminded of What It’s Like to Be a Patient

I got a chance to be a patient and see what a patient sees. Fortunately, it was just for a routine teeth cleaning but what I learned was priceless.

(I have important “Take-Aways” for you below.)

Since I’m new to the Dallas area, I jumped on Yelp and found a random dentist with a good star rating.

(Actually Amanda made the appointment for me.)

It’s not fun being a patient. (And not great with “selfies” yet).

Here’s what I learned:

(1) It’s not fun being a patient…so stop being so serious.

Everything about the experience was quite sterile, stale, and frankly… boring. Albeit I didn’t have a serious condition. All I needed was a teeth cleaning (more reason to take it light-heartedly) but not all patients want it to be serious even when it is serious. For example, check out this video of a patient dancing with his walker.

I would love to see more high fives, smiling, personal questions, and more fun (and I’m kind of a geeky serious guy!). A few might not like it but most everyone else will (as long as it’s not childish, done in good taste, and no ridiculing).

My take away: Up your game and add more fun. You will get more patients loving you. Don’t mind the few who might not like it. Most will love it. You can’t please everyone. It’s better to be lovable with a few hating you than to be palatable with no one loving you. (And what I mean by “loving you” is not cookies and thank you cards but rather elective service sales and family n friend referrals.)

(2) What the receptionist says and how they treat you is super important.

When I first walked in to their office, they gave me a bunch of tedious paperwork, which I hate (all patients hate). Just for a teeth cleaning. This is after I walked around the entire building in the hot sun trying to find their office entrance. And to top it off, she wanted to charge me a different price than what was quoted over the phone. The difference in price was not that important, it was the principle. It’s not fun being a patient.

My take away: If your front door entrance is not easy to find, go out of your way to explain it during the first call. Train staff well on prices. If you are going to get anything right, get pricing right. And don’t say, “It depends.”. People hate that. Don’t have long tedious paperwork, it pisses people off. Email it to me so I can complete it at home. I don’t mind completing forms at home. Most patients don’t.

(3) Don’t override the receptionist.

When the receptionist and I were talking about the misquoted price for the teeth cleaning, the dentist came up (since he overheard) and took over the conversation. This actually lessened my respect for the dentist and entire clinic. He began explaining how his pricing system worked (they had membership rate and non-membership rates).

My take away: If your prices are so confusing that even your staff can’t get it right, change it. Make it simple. And train your staff. Ambiguity is one thing but misquoting a new patient is another. If you screw up, take ownership and honor what your staff quoted. It’s not the amount, it’s the principle. And never, never, never, override your receptionist. Patients will lose all respect and credibility for her, then you’re screwed. You won’t have a chance in hell making patients loyal. Make the best first impression you can.

(4) Don’t make it complicated.

See my comments above. Even when the patient has a deductible, co-pay, co-insurance, etc., make it easy and understandable or you might lose them (Learn “COC”, the quick and simple way. And patients love it).

(5) Your technician/aide is super important.

The girl who set me up, and later flossed my teeth after the cleaning (Which btw, I have no clue why they do the flossing. It’s pointless.), she was nice. She was timid though. She definitely blended into the sterile culture.

My take away: Hire techs who are nice but confident and outgoing. Surround yourself with fun people (because we’re not all that fun). Create a culture that encourages staff to be fun and outgoing.

(6) Don’t go overboard with the education.

The dentist was boring. Before the cleaning, he went on and on about what he was going to do and so on. After the cleaning he kept on wanting to teach me all about the mouth and teeth. Even as I tried to interject with a question, all he wanted to do was complete his educational spiel. Very bad first impression.

My take away: Don’t do all the talking. Don’t overeducate. Instead relate to the patient. Listen to their questions. Take interest in the person and they won’t find you boring. Ask questions about them such as “So, I noticed… how do you like your work?” etc.

(7) Have a menu.

If you are going to have several different prices (like membership rate and non-member rates), have a menu. If your pricing is even a little complicated, have a menu. Even if your prices are simple and straightforward have a menu.

My take a way: Have a menu!

(8) Use a reminder app.

Even though I wasn’t crazy about this office. I don’t formulate judgements based on one experience so I told them I wanted to come back for another cleaning in 3-months. They said teeth cleanings are usually performed every 6-months. But I told them I like to do every 3-months because I smoke cigars. They appeared reluctant to schedule me (And it wasn’t like I was being an ass where they didn’t want me as a patient–I was being quite polite.). My followup cleaning was supposed to be last Wednesday. I purposely waited to see if they would call or remind me or not. This was going to be my test to see if they had their sh&% together. They didn’t. I didn’t go.

My take away: Use a reminder app for appointments more than 30 days out. I don’t usually schedule patients more than 2-weeks out but I do have “Maintenance” and “Wellness” patients that schedule 30-60 days out. Search google for a “Reminder App” if your scheduling software doesn’t have that feature. I personally like Alarmed myself (it’s an ios app). But patients get the impression that you have your sh*$ together. Important.

(9) Be on Yelp

More and more people are searching Yelp for healthcare related services. See their growth rate here. If you are not there, you are losing out big time. People love the rating system. And they have a great mobile app.

Take away: Be on Yelp! Complete your profile/account as completely and thoroughly as possible. Add pictures and a lot of content. Get people to rate you there more than facebook or google. Trust me.

Now, you can try and go through this list and implement it one by one or…

the better way is to get on the path of creating a culture that breeds a “lovable” clinic in every nook-and-cranny of your entire care system. This fixes the root problems and not just the symptoms.

The items and problems I listed above are mere symptoms of a lost identity. They have no culture. They have no identity. They have no mission, purpose, or beliefs.

So what they end up with is a stale, sterile and boring experience…for the patient (and staff).

Will they stay in business? …Who knows.

Will the owner of the practice become wealthy and have abundant fulfillment?…Probably not.

Life is short. Start giving patients what they want…and you’ll get what you want–more referrals, more cash sales, more loyalty!

Soon I will be announcing an impromptu training on this topic.

LEAVE A COMMENT if you want to be invited 🙂

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James Ko

James Ko, PT is an expert in private practice for physical and occupational therapists. For over 15 years he's helped the most struggling practices become successful and thrive.