- Any changes in your medical history?
- Any problems or concerns today?
- Are you ready to go forward with the next crown on your treatment plan?
Same old questions, descriptions and explanations.
Why is it so difficult to consistently apply the spirit and principles of the New Patient Experience to everyday dentistry? Part of the problem is that too often the new patient process is isolated from the rest of the practice. Team members not actively engaged in the appointment may not fully understand what transpires, or how they can carry it forward. The new patient appointment seems to stand alone as a singular event that starts and ends often in one visit. That visit might include an initial conversation, followed by an exam, x-rays, photos, models, etc. All too often it ends with rushed conversation about a treatment plan, fees, and financial arrangements.
Patients have not usually forgotten what we recommended. They have not felt a need to move forward with treatment because we gave them answers to questions they didn’t ask. They were not yet ready to hear our recommendations.
How can we help them over time to ask for care? How can your new patient system become more effective and more integrated with all the other systems in your practice?
Start by involving the entire team in the process. If everyone on the team has not experienced a complete new patient process, invite them to schedule one. Provide each of them with the unique care you provide your new patients; no shortcuts. When they experience the process, they will appreciate it more fully.
- Questions: Discuss questions everyone can ask to engage patients to raise curiosity and awareness about conditions. For example, when someone comes in with a broken tooth anyone can say, “Oh, I’m so sorry your tooth broke. Why do you think that happened?” That’s an invitation to partner with you in problem solving.
- Clinical Exams: Practice clinical co-discovery in every part of the practice. In hygiene, emergency, and restorative appointments, don’t miss the opportunity to help the patient see what you see as you see it.
- Records: Make every recommendation for records specific to the needs of the patient. Avoid “it’s time for” or “you’re due for.” Whoever is talking with patients about records should be able to talk about why they are useful for that patient. “Based on your history . . .” “Based on what we’re seeing . . .”
- Conversations: Focus conversations on conditions and concerns more than treatment. Instead of asking about going forward with a crown, you might say something like, “What have you been noticing on that tooth where we saw a crack last time?” If you follow up by asking if they feel any discomfort when they bite down you express your concern for what could happen.
- Preparation: Prepare for existing patients as you do for new patients. Review charts to understand concerns they have expressed or choices they have made in the past. Get curious about what you do not yet know that might help you help them better.
There are aspects of dentistry that can become repetitious and routine, but it doesn’t have to be the same old “burger, shake, and fries.” Every person who works in dentistry can have a positive impact on improving patients’ health.
That is not routine.
That is invigorating!