First impressions matter – including in the dental practice
It’s no secret that people are creatures of habit. If they feel happy and treated fairly, they will stay and remain loyal for many years. Your success as a dentist therefore depends on how your patients feel about you and your practice. Even if you have a flawless set-up in a structural sense, that doesn’t mean that your practice will necessarily make a good first impression. Because the rational parameters are not usually the deciding factors for patients. Why is that? Patients are vulnerable, as they are often nervous or feeling unwell when they come to you. This gives rise to a feeling of insecurity, which automatically leads to patients placing value on the emotional level. In essence: Meet your patients on this level and act as a positive anchor.
You can read about what constitutes good service, why employees are an important marketing factor, how good new patient management works, and the value of practice websites, etc. at the end of these columns. We will be looking at a few components which may not immediately spring to mind but which nevertheless have a big impact.
Smart practice, smart procedures
It has to be uncomplicated – from arranging the appointment to the treatment to recall and beyond. In all areas, pay particular attention to stream-lining processes and make every contact your patients have with the practice as pleasant as possible. In order to make stream-lined processes work in reality, practice guidelines and fixed responsibilities are vital, with which the whole practice team should comply. If responsibility for all areas lies solely on you as the proprietor, the practice work flow will run neither smartly nor efficiently. Just a few examples of contact situations which make a negative impression on patients are: lengthy appointment booking processes, indirect answers to queries, complicated new patient registration, inefficient planning of follow-up appointments, no assistance/guidance for seeking help with treatment costs or settlement with health insurance providers, or a recall system that doesn’t work.
Atmosphere is everything
For patients to feel comfortable on an emotional level, the atmosphere in the practice is crucial. That doesn’t mean that the practice has to be super modern and amazingly stylish. Atmosphere doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with design. It’s much more about creating a space that feels comfortable, creating trust and evoking positive feelings during the patient’s visit to the practice.
It’s not just you who spends the majority of your day in the practice, but also your team. It is therefore in your interest to turn the dental practice into a space in which it is enjoyable to spend several hours of the day. The dental practice is therefore not the place for worn-out furniture or a hotchpotch of different colours, materials and patterns. Fixtures and furnishings should of course be intact and not worn-out or broken. The same goes for flooring, wall decorations and the like. When it comes to this, less is usually more. Create ambience with harmonious room designs, bring in a few personal touches and spruce it up with a new look from time to time.
Noticeable hygiene and order
The discussion about hospital hygiene, which is currently enjoying a strong presence in the media, can also apply to dental practices. Hygiene is of extreme importance to patients, and you should show them that they can fully rely on your practice in this regard too. That does not mean that there should be a strong smell of disinfectant drifting through the rooms, but rather that you should follow a ‘clean desk policy’, i.e. make sure workstations are tidy and also be transparent when it comes to hygiene. Keep the reception area, the waiting room and any other rooms such as the patient toilet as clean and uncluttered as possible (which in turn makes cleaning easier). In this respect, it will help to have fewer storage shelves, lockable filing systems and mostly digital practice processes. When physical files don’t need to be retrieved and hard copy documents don’t have to be sorted, there is little room for chaos. The same goes for coffee cups, food or your reception team’s personal belongings (handbags, for example). The waiting room should always be set up nicely during the day – welcome the last patient of the day with the same level of respect as the first.
Hygiene is particularly noticeable in the treatment room. Take care to ensure storage areas are uncluttered, the patient tray is well prepared and, of course, personal hygiene and protective equipment are on hand. Whenever possible, wait until the patient is present before removing the instruments from the sterile goods packing. A glass door or window to the sterilization room – should this be visible to the patient – can help make a positive impression.
From time to time, take a walk in the patient’s shoes through the practice from first point of contact to departure. This requires you to be objective – try to take an impartial view. This internal quality control can reveal shortcomings or even mistakes that are easily overlooked in regular practice and/or out of habit. In essence, this internal tour of the practice is also a good team task, as everyone can contribute to making little improvements by sharing their own perspectives. Even friends, acquaintances or well-known/long-standing patients can be asked to take part in this task.
You see: that first impression is everything. And the power to influence it is in your hands. Create a positive impression and you will lay the foundations for a long-standing and loyal patient relationship.