Nowadays, we are providing more than dental appointments, we are providing patient experiences. The patient experience is more than a buzzword. It has been proven that positive patient experiences increase health outcomes and decrease patient complaints.1
What is the patient experience? Although there is no established definition, the patient experience is more than providing care; it is how well the patient feels cared for.
Patients will have a positive experience when they feel we understand and meet their needs, that we are doing things in their best interest and we respect and appreciate them.
How can we deliver 5-star service to our patients? Read on to hear how some dentists are providing great patient experiences.
Dr. Ramez Salti
Multiple locations, Toronto, Ontario
The way I transform a patient appointment into a patient experience is by focusing on the patient relationship and how the patient feels.
I practice at several offices doing oral surgery and implants under IV sedation. My patients are often nervous so I take the time to gain their trust and find ways to make them more comfortable. I ask them what makes them nervous and what I can do to make them calmer. This can involve giving them a weighted comfort blanket, oral or IV sedation, or simply talking to them.
In one appointment, I met a 4-year-old little girl named Charlotte, wearing a watermelon printed dress with blood spots on it due to experiencing a fall just hours earlier. She was scared, and so were her parents. I knew I had to win their trust before I even thought about the dental treatment. I asked questions about her watermelon clothes and her favourite colour. I let her mom sit in the chair with Charlotte. The fear went away as they saw me as a friend who was eager to help. Because of that, she let me remove her broken front teeth and was beaming when she held her tooth fairy box.
Besides making the patient feel comfortable and gaining their trust, another way I serve my patients is by providing customized care. I do this by learning the patient’s unique learning style. Some patients are visual learners so I show them pictures and radiographs. Other patients are detail oriented and require specifics about their dentistry. Other patients are not interested in details at all – they simply want their dental treatment completed. Taking the time to understand patients enhances connection and provides a truly remarkable patient experience.
Dr. Peggy Bown
Luxe Dental Group, Saint John, New Brunswick
I believe the patient experience is the sequence of events and sensory experiences that the patient encounters at every point of contact. It starts before the patient comes to your office and continues after the appointment. For example, what impression does your online presence give? Is it easy for patients to find your office? Do you take the time to understand your patients? How do you correspond with them after appointments? If you exceed their expectations, you are more likely to get great reviews and more referrals.
How do we go beyond patients’ expectations? We give our patients the VIP treatment. We make them feel special by getting to know them first. We share laughs and stories so they feel like friends coming over for a visit. We offer refreshments, pillows, blankets, hot towels with essential oils and lumbar support. During treatment, patients lay back and watch a video of their favourite destination while listening to relaxing music. It’s like a first-class trip.
All the touch points – from the office design, to the technology and materials, to the way we communicate – are centred on providing a positive patient experience. Our office has spa-like colours, wide hallways, bright lighting, open spaces and clutter-free rooms. We use intra-oral scanners and cameras and smile simulations to educate and engage. Not only do we focus on what patients see, but we also think about what they taste and smell when choosing our materials. Responding to messages and calls quickly, running on time and having compassionate and competent team members are other ways we make the patient feel valued.
Doing things to make patients happy also makes us happy. The dentistry is not the game; serving patients and exceeding their expectations is the game. No amount of good dentistry will build a practice without a great patient experience.
Dr. Faraj Edher
Prosthodontist, Transcend –
Specialized Dentistry, Vancouver, British Columbia
I believe the patient experience is all about how patients feel and what they experience using their 5 basic senses. This applies to everything before, during and after their dental visit.
It has been interesting to build a new dental office in Vancouver where we designed the office with the patient experience in mind. We visualized the patient walking through the office and thought about what the patient experiences with each step. For example, patients hearing conversations between team members and insurance companies at the front desk doesn’t enhance the patient experience, so we ensured that these phone calls take place in a different private area, so the front desk area can focus on greeting patients and making them feel welcomed and comfortable.
An example where focusing on the patient experience resulted in a better result and happier patient was when I had a challenging case of making an anterior crown on a patient with a high smile line. When I inserted the crown for the try-in, she was so happy she had tears in her eyes. I saw that there were some minor improvements that could be made to the line angles and contours of the restoration. I could have cemented it and let her go, but instead I said, “The crown looks good, but it can be better.” I explained how it could be improved and she trusted me to make the changes needed. She was so thrilled with the result that she referred several friends and co-workers to see me. She appreciated that I took the time to give her the best care, even when she would not have known any better. She embraced and adopted what I said to her and until this day messages me when she says to someone, “Good is not good enough – we aim for great.”
Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta
General Dentist, WellFort
Community Health Centre,
For me, the patient experience involves making the patient feel welcomed and valued. I work at a community health centre where I care for children and seniors on public dental programs. Our vision statement is “A Healthier Community Where Everyone Belongs.” One of the ways I make patients feel welcome is that I go to the Welcome Room (we don’t call it a waiting room) and greet the patient and anyone that comes with the patient. Then I invite them all into the operatory and hang up their coats and seat them. It makes them feel like they are coming into my home instead of a dental office.
I do some simple things that make patients feel valued. I thank them for coming in at the start and end of the appointment. I slow down my breathing and speech so I seem present and not rushed. I sit in front of them and ask them about themselves before picking up an instrument. Getting to know my patients makes them feel that I care about them as people first and their teeth second.
Placing patients first not only improves the patient experience, it also enhances the clinical experience. For example, the other day I was struggling to place a matrix band on a wide prep on the 26 distal. The assistant and I were trying different things and we were frustrated. As the tension built, the patient gripped the chair. Then I stopped thinking about the tooth and started thinking about the patient. I put down my instruments and looked at the patient and said, “Are you doing okay? Sorry this is taking longer than expected. Let me know if you need a break. We are doing our best to take care of you.” Immediately everyone became more relaxed and the procedure went well. The patient was very appreciative that we worked so hard to get it right and that we made sure he was alright.
Another way to provide a positive patient experience is to show that you are enjoying the dentist experience. When your patients see that you love being at the dental office, they will too!
You just learned some great ways to create a positive patient experience. Now it’s your turn. Transform the dental appointment into a patient experience and you will enjoy a blossoming workplace culture, heightened clinical outcomes and a greater sense of fulfillment.
About the Authors
Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta BSc DDS graduated from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry in 1999. She is a general dentist practicing at a publicly funded dental clinic in Brampton, Ontario. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Dr. Ramez Salti BSc MBA DDS graduated from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2007. He is a general dentist with a focus on implants, oral surgery and IV sedation. He practices at several locations in the Greater Toronto Area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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