My 5 Keys to Being a 'Patient Centric' Dental Office in 2014 - T-Bone Speaks

My 5 Keys to Being a ‘Patient Centric’ Dental Office in 2014

I like to use the saying ‘patient centric’ when talking about the tremendous growth we have seen in our practice over the last several years.

The typical first response is always ‘we already have great customer service’.  I’d like to redefine being patient centric.

5.  Patient Care, Compassion, and Customer Service.

This is number 5 on my list because it is the most obvious and the one that has and will always be on the list.  Everything else will be trumped if you forget this. 

For me it’s pretty simple, follow the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

4.  Value Patient Time.

Do you ever run behind schedule?  Of course, we all on occasion get behind.  Communicate from the clinical team to the admin team and give your patients a heads up.  Even if it’s only 10-15 minutes – that could mean the difference for your patient driving too fast to your office, getting a little extra done at work, getting a quick errand taken care of, or having a moment to grab a bite to eat before you numb them from head to toe.  If nothing else, it let’s your patient know you care and that you operate different from the medical model we all make fun of – where it is a running joke that you can be late because they are never on time.

Does your patient ever show up early?  Kindly thank them for being early to their appointment and let them know that you’ll see them right on time in X minutes.  This way when your patient is waiting they realize they aren’t really waiting.

There are too many things that go into the value of patients time.  Just ask yourself are you doing everything possible to minimize the number of patient visits.

3.  Same Day Dentistry.

Do you offer to provide same day dentistry?  This has recently become a major project of mine.  The more I begin to truly understand and value this the more I realize the benefits.  This isn’t about being a ‘walk in’ clinic, but instead giving your patient a choice to go ahead and get things done today.

Let’s look at it from three perspectives – the busy practice, the not reaching daily goal practice, and the patients perspective.

The busy practice.  In the last couple of years we have seen our practice start having to make patients wait 3-5 weeks to get treatment appointments.  This isn’t necessarily because we schedule incorrectly – we utilize a system of ‘block scheduling’.  Instead it is an issue of too many little things clogging up the schedule.  What I mean are little 1 surface resins, lab restoration seats, night guard impressions, etc.  When your hygienist ‘pre diagnoses’ these items in hygiene chair, train them to simply ask the patient “Would you like to have that taken care of today?”  These little items are generally speaking easy and can often be worked into your schedule.  This will keep these items from clogging your schedule in the future.  I hate it when I need a 3 hour appointment block (not a typical block in our office) and we can’t find one for months because of a little resin right in the middle of that time.  I know we could always move the appointment, but the better solution is to avoid the problem all together.

The not meeting goal practice.  If your practice is struggling to meet your daily goal and/or has some free time on your schedule, then having your hygienist ask patients if they want to take care of it today is a great option.  The key in this is to not wait until the end of the appointment to ask, but ask well in advance.  This allows the hygienist communicate this to the assistant and know in advance how to make it happen (notice I didn’t say if it was possible, but instead how to make it happen).  Adding an extra night guard, whitening trays, couple of quick resin restorations can make the difference in achieving your daily goal.  Each morning identify the opportunities during your morning huddle to guide the best possibilities.

Don’t have openings or have chair constraints?  Capacity and/or staffing is a big component to making this successful.  Let me give you a few tips to make your office more ready to offer same day dentistry.

  • Be able to provide restorative treatment in the hygiene chair.  In fact, every chair in your office should be able to provide restorative treatment.
  • Equip an extra operatory.  Having the extra room to provide same day dentistry is a sound business decision.  In fact, a couple of quick resins will pay the payment for the extra equipment for the whole month.
  • Hire an extra dental assistant.  An extra person can create tremendous efficiency.  This person can assist the hygienist to make them more effective, this person can relieve the burden of sterilization, and, of course, this person can be there to assist you with same day dentistry.  The salary of an additional assistant can be easily offset through the production gained from capacity and staffing to provide same day dentistry.  Often times, this additional assistant can be an on the job training assistant – they are really only doing easy procedures with you.
  • Be prepared.  Do each of your team members review their charts for the day?  Do you share unscheduled treatment with the team at a morning huddle?  These simple things will identify tremendous opportunity in your schedule.

The Patients Perspective.  Time is money.  When you ask your patient to take extra visits it means more time off work, more inconvenience, more stress of having to ask their boss to take more time off.  Imagine if your assistant asked you to take two or three half days to get a crown?  It would create havoc in your schedule, yet we do that all the time to our patients.

A couple of things you can do to keep patient visits in mind.  

First, start planning care proactively instead of reactively.  Give patients the option to go ahead and take care of the entire quadrant while working on a single tooth.  Give patients the option to go ahead and take care of an entire side vs just a single quadrant.  Take a step back and offer your patients the options to take a look at the big picture and take the time to put together a plan that accomplishes treatment in a few, well planned visits.

Secondly, look at technologies that can reduce visits.  Nothing is better at this than CEREC.  It allows you to fabricate the vast majority of your indirect restorations in a single visit.  I simply can’t believe how many patients are amazed at our CEREC and thank us for not taking gooey impressions, making them wear uncomfortable temporaries, or making them get numb another time to delivery a crown.

2.  Patient Friendly Payment Options

Do you help patients to afford treatment?  It blows me away at how many office still don’t offer third party financing.  I’m a big advocate of offering patients several choices on how to pay for treatment.  In our office this includes – cash, check, credit card, third party financing (we use CareCredit), and our own in office financing.

If you do offer payment options do you offer it to every patient?  Another area that blows me away is how few offices offer patients all their financing options every time.  We have a standard form that we use that we use to present financial arrangements to every patient.  It’s like a menu and we allow the patient to choose the option that makes the most sense to them.

If you offer third party financing do you offer no interest financing?  Patients aren’t always interested in extending payments out over several years.  In fact, most treatment falls under the $1000 figure (out of pocket).  So short term (3, 6, 12 months) no interest financing is very appealing to patients.  I know from personal experience, that I am more apt to buy a product if there is a no interest option.

In 2011 we started offering an in office short term no interest financing option to our patients.  The response and results were better than I expected.  The basic premise is that we utilize a credit card on file program that automatically charges the patient on a predetermined date a predetermined amount.  If you want to hear more about this drop me an email (DrA@3D-Dentists.com) or comment and if there is enough interest I’ll make it the focus of a future blog post.

Bottom line.  Patients are accustomed to making payments and a great practice will offer the patients a menu that outlines every option available to them so the patient can make an educated decision to what fits best in their life.  Patient financing isn’t just for ‘big’ treatment but also for everyday treatment.  

1.  Complete Dental Care

Do you offer complete dental care in your office?  Unfortunately, the answer for the vast majority is NO!  

My practice use to be the perfect example of this.  For the longest time we were a restorative only practice.  If you needed endo – refer.  If you needed teeth taken out – refer.  If you needed ortho – refer.  You get the point.

What I didn’t realize is this also created a barrier to treatment for patients that had complex needs.  Just a simple example.  If a patient comes in needed cosmetic treatment and needed a premolar endo, that would now require a referral, consultation, treatment at another office, and then I could do my restorative work.

Over time what started happening is these patients were often seeking second opinions and looking for offices that could provide their care from start to finish.  Now, I’m not saying that you need to provide every service known to dentistry, but you should be able to do many of the more common ‘speciality’ items in dentistry – molar endo, extractions, socket preservation, adult orthodontics, implant placement, etc.

What about sedation dentistry?  Did you know that 50% of the population fears visiting the dentist.  Your patients want this and sometimes it’s not that they even know they want this.  Being able to offer it to them can often put the patient at ease and relax their apprehension to say yes to moving forward with treatment.

I have a simple goal for myself.  Each year I need to add another procedure to my mix of services in the office.  This could mean something I do myself or it could even mean having another dentist perform this service for me in my office – although I prefer for you to do them yourself.

My implant journey over the last 6 years is a perfect example of this.  I started with straightforward molars, progressed to immediate posterior implants, then tackled anterior implants, then added sinus lifts and bone grafting to the mix, then went to implants to retain dentures, and then graduated to full arch fixed implant cases.  None of this was by chance – it was a careful progression that involved pushing myself and taking the time and money to invest in the education necessary.

Another aspect we often don’t think about – your mix of services affect patient referrals.  If I was your patient that you referred to a specialist for a procedure and a friend suddenly needed the same thing how likely would they be to recommend your office?  Not a day doesn’t go by that a patient isn’t referred to our office because of our ability to provide most treatment within our office.

If you were to be honest with yourself and really tracked what you needed to refer it would likely make you sick.  If nothing else, you would gain tremendous insight into what services you should take a serious look into providing.

So there you have it – my 5 keys to being patient centric and some of my thoughts behind them.  If you’re not happy with where you are at, then it’s time to do something different.  If you are happy with where you are at, then it’s time to keep growing or everything around you will change and pass you.

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About the Author Tarun Agarwal

Dr. Tarun Agarwal represents the next generation of leadership for the dental profession. As a respected speaker, author and opinion leader, he is changing the way general dentists and their teams practice.

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  • Any questions or comments?

  • Alayna Cuddy says:

    We just watched the episode of Chairside Live that you were interviewed in. I had a question about your flat fee for implants. How do you bill that out to insurance?

    • every case we do utilizes a 3D scan, surgical guide, implant fixture, stock abutment (sometimes custom abutment), and implant crown…. so we package those codes for our flat fee.

  • Stephen M Lawrence says:

    T Bone, I find every topic you post timely and informative. They are reinforcement on keeping the eye on the goal, which is to get better every day.

  • Michael Nugent says:

    The basic premise is that we utilize a credit card on file program that automatically charges the patient on a predetermined date a predetermined amount. If you want to hear more about this drop me an email (DrA@3D-Dentists.com) or comment

    Yes, would like to hear about this.

    • T-Bone says:

      Michael… I have a podcast episode on this with the dental hacks….

      Click the media button on the menu and you will see it listed there

  • Reid Stone says:

    Tarun, you mentioned on one of the podcasts that you might sell a “turn key” product for the in office financing system like you implemented. Have listened to all the dental hacks episodes where you discuss that. Any other info?? Great idea!!

    • T-Bone says:

      Reid… Unfortunately I haven’t made it to putting that together yet. It is a priority for me.

      I’ll keep everyone informed when I do make it. It won’t be in the next few months though.

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