The New Patient Experience

  • We all know how very important new patients are to the growth of any practice.
    In order to handle new patients properly, a step by step system must be followed. Why is this important? When a doctor sits down to do dental treatment, he/she doesn’t just “wing it, “ right? There is a step by step process to successfully and properly complete every single dental procedure. This is no different. In fact, everything the front desk does should be done systematically and according to procedure.

  • Let’s break down the New Patient Experience into three major components - beginning, middle and the end.
    We are going to take a critical look at each component so that your practice fully understands the process. Basically, the patient should have a memorable whole experience with your practice.

A lot rides on how well your front office team answers the phone and handles new patient phone calls.

Once the patient has made it to their appointment, the dental office team has MANY opportunities to impress the patient! Recognize those opportunities! Give the patient a smooth and stress free appointment.

Even though the actual appointment may be over, there’s still work to do for that patient!

The New Patient Experience: The Beginning

  • Beginning: New Patient Phone Call Goals

    We should never answer the phones by "winging it". Every time the phone rings, we should be mentally prepared that a new patient, which requires special effort, might be calling. We must also keep in mind that those calls should have two goals: to build practice value and to schedule an appointment.

We feel that BUILDING value should be done INTENTIONALLY by the front desk throughout the call.

But, how do we build value?

Most new patients call your office to make their first appointment. Some of those patients have seen your website or your social media or have heard about you from their friends and family, but most don’t really know why your practice is so wonderful or why they should choose your office.

Let’s think about this for a minute.
Over the phone, someone can’t see your face, so how can you make them FEEL good about calling your business? What do you think that sounds like? Have you ever had a phone experience with a business that made you feel REALLY glad that you called them? Have you ever had a phone experience with a business that made you NOT want to engage any further with them? I’m sure you’ve had both.

Every time the phone rings, it should be answered calmly and with a smile. Always keep in mind that it might be a new patient calling, and be mentally ready to take a new patient through a great phone call experience. If it isn’t a new patient, be sure to give them patience and kindness as well.

When a new patient calls your practice, it is up to the front desk team to convey to the patient that he/she has contacted a great office that can help. This is done by handling the call in such a way that the patient FEELS good about calling your office. The way this is done is by speaking in a calm, friendly, and reassuring manner. Saying things like, “You’ve called a great office!” or “You’ll love Dr. Smith. She’s so gentle!” go a long way in having the patient feel good about calling your office.

It is the responsibility of that front desk team member to convey how wonderful the office is through her voice, carefully chosen words, and disposition. The team member has to become MORE than just a voice on the other end of the phone. That team member must do enough to have the patient realize that the office is a wonderful and capable dental practice.

Every time a new patient calls, we have the OPPORTUNITY to create production for the practice.  We take that seriously. The responsibility of the front office team is to recognize the call as an opportunity and turn it into an appointment. The person answering the phone should build practice value throughout the call and guide the caller into making an appointment.

There will be many instances when, over the phone, callers will launch into their long and winding “dental story” which may include something that did or didn’t happen at another office, or a retelling of a traumatic dental event from 30 years ago. Some of this information may be important to know about the future patient, and some of it may be unnecessary. It is important for the front desk team not to be sucked into an unnecessary 30–minute conversation. It would be WONDERFUL if callers could be DIRECT and SUCCINCT and say, “Hello, I would like to be a new patient at your office because I have a tooth issue. May I please make an appointment for next week?” In actuality, many callers have a difficult time with this direct communication. Instead, the call sometimes goes like this. “I got your name from a coworker…but I can’t remember her name. Gee…what IS her last name? Oh my…I’ve worked with her for 5 years and I can’t remember her name. Anyway, 10 years ago, this dentist did a root canal on my tooth, and it’s hurting me now. My sister had a root canal done by a different dentist when she was in college and her tooth is fine. Do you know why mine hurts? What can I do to make it feel better?” Whoa..that caller is all over the place, isn’t she? Clearly, she has a dental need. Clearly, she is looking at the front desk for answers. Clearly, there is NO way the front desk can x this caller’s tooth or in this case even give too much advice about it.

But, what the front desk team CAN do, is reassure the caller that the doctor is fantastic and that the office will be able to help her when she comes in for an appointment. The front desk must be aware that the call is getting off track in order to bring it back on track.

Be sure to put all new patient phone call conversation notes into the practice management software.

  • Beginning: New Patient Phone Calls

    Let's take a look at how two different people handle the same phone call.

Let’s read an example and discuss the finer points of the beginning of a conversation between a new patient and Jenny, the talented front desk team member, who will handle the call.

Office Phone Rings, Jenny, at the front desk, takes a deep breath to gain composure and to be able to convey a calm feeling with her voice. She never wants to sound rushed. She puts a smile on her face and answers the phone.

Jenny (with patience, caring, and confidence in her voice): Good Morning! Thank you for calling Dr. Smith’s office. This is Jenny and I can help you!

Patient: Hi Jenny. I need a dentist. My tooth is killing me.

Jenny (with genuine concern, but still conveying confidence)I’m so sorry to hear that you are in pain, but no worries, you’ve called a GREAT office. Dr. Smith is really skillful and gentle and our assistants are well trained. We can certainly help you out today. May I have your name?

Patient: Oh, thank you so much! My name is Kevin.


In those few short exchanges between Jenny and Kevin, we can tell so many things.

  • By taking a deep breath and speaking calmly and with a smile on her face, Jenny has conveyed a sense of confidence, warmth, and peace to the patient. She is creating a GREAT EXPERIENCE for that patient. What if she had answered in a rushed and annoyed voice? What sort of message and feeling would THAT have given to the patient? What kind of experience would that have been?
  • Jenny directly refers back to the patient’s chief complaint. The patient stated that he had a toothache. Jenny assured the patient that her office can help with the toothache. Readdressing the patient’s chief complaint is often overlooked in a new patient call. In this case, the patient is calling because he has a problem and is in pain. This may not be the best time to promote cosmetic services. We want the patients to know that we hear them and we can help them with their exact need.
  • By telling the caller about the skilled doctor and well trained staff, Jenny has done a great job of expressing the practice’s value. This caller now has a seed planted that this office is a good one and he should want to be a patient in such a knowledgeable practice.
  • Jenny also moves the call along by asking questions. Asking questions is a great way to guide the caller into making an appointment.

Jenny’s pretty great, isn’t she? Why do we take this beginning part so seriously? Well, it sets the tone. It makes your practice become more than just a voice. It puts some humanity to an otherwise sterile phone call. The better the experience, the more likely the patient is to show up and be respectful of the practice.

 Is Jenny doing things to accomplish the two goals of a New Patient Phone Call? Yes!

Let’s look at how Louise handles the same beginning of a new patient conversation.


Office Phone Rings.
Louise (Irritated with the ringing phone. She grabs it in anger, and begins the office greeting before her mouth is completely over the receiver): Doctor’s office.

Patient (feeling confused because he couldn’t hear what was said): Hi. Um, is this Dr. Smith’s office? I’m not sure if I called the right place.

Louise (interrupting the patient): This is a dental office. How may I help you?

Patient (feeling apprehensive): I have a toothache.

Louise (disregarding the patient’s pain): What insurance do you have?


We can tell a lot about Louise’s practice by how she handled that call.

  • By not projecting patience and warmth on the phone, Louise is telling the caller that the practice is not attentive or warm. If she cannot care enough to convey better energy over the phone, then one might suspect that attention is not paid to how patients are treated once they are in the office.
  • By not clearly stating the name of the business, Louise may have confused the patient. The goal is to always make communication as smooth as possible and not to cause the patient to feel uneasy.
  • Louise asked about the patient’s insurance before asking his name. She clearly cares more about his insurance situation than who he is.

Louise is pretty terrible. Don’t be like Louise. She has never heard of the New Patient Phone Call Goals.

 

  • Beginning: New Patient Phone Calls

    Ok, so now we know how to handle the beginning of a new patient phone call. Let's move on to the rest of the call. It's important to have a plan for how to handle new patient calls. Just as the doctor sits down to do a certain procedure in a certain order, and with a plan in mind, we recommend that the front desk team have a plan to handle the new patient phone call process. Below are the 9 items we recommend to accomplish during a new patient call.
    We will suggest a logical flow for your conversation, but feel free to make adjustments that better suit your practice. Although there is a structure to the call, please make sure that it feels conversational to the patient. The structure is there to help accomplish the goals of the new patient call.
    Some practices do not discuss insurance or fees over the phone. Some offices take a credit card when reserving time for new patients. Some offices have new patients see the doctor first. Some offices require that the new patient see the hygienist first. We cannot possibly account for each office's specific value system. What is your practice's value system?

  • Warm, patient, and calm greeting.
  • Determine if the patient is the caller or if calling for someone else.
  • Determine patient’s chief complaint (biggest reason for calling).
  • Reassure patient that office is great and can address chief complaint.
  • Schedule dental appointment for patient.
  • Verify office location for patient.
  • Obtain patient’s contact information.
  • Determine patient’s referral source and seize new referral opportunity.
  • Final instructions and confirm appointment day and time.
  • Beginning: New Patient Phone Calls

    Let us now expand on that list.

  • 1

    “Good Morning! Thank you for calling Dr. Smith’s office. This is Jenny and I can help you!”

    Warm, patient, and calm greeting. Think of Jenny, our awesome front desk team member from our earlier example. Answer with kindness in your voice, and with service in your heart. Take a deep breath and then smile when you answer the phone. Let the patient FEEL the value of your practice.

  • 2

    “Will this appointment be for you or a family member?”

    “Hi Jenny. My name is Charlie. I need to be seen. My tooth is killing me.”
    Determine if the patient is the caller or if calling for someone else. For scheduling and conversation purposes, it is important to know if the caller is the patient or if he/she is scheduling for someone else. Sometimes this can be observed by what the patient says. Sometimes it is unclear as to who the patient is. This one is pretty clear.
    But what if the patient says, “Hi Jenny. I want to schedule an appointment for a new patient” and Jenny assumes that the caller is asking for herself. Later on in the call, after a few minutes of scheduling and discussion, Jenny finds out that the patient is a child. Jenny’s office does not see children. Uh oh!
    If Jenny is unsure who the patient will be, simply saying something like, “Will this appointment be for you or a family member?” is a good way to find out who the patient will be.

  • 3

    “Are you due for a check up and cleaning, do you have a tooth bothering you, or are you interested in our cosmetic services?”

    Earlier, in the Presenting Financial Consultation section, we discussed acknowledging the patient’s chief concern/ complaint by echoing it back to the patient. We are going to do something similar here.
    The response to this question is important! The answer here will let the front desk know how to schedule this appointment. Take notes on what the patient WANTS from your practice.

  • 4

    “I’m so sorry to hear that you are in pain, but no worries, you’ve called a GREAT office. Dr. Smith is really skillful and gentle and our assistants are well trained.”

    Based on the response to #3, the front desk should now provide reassurance that the practice can help with whatever need the caller may have. The front desk should also let the caller know that the office is very good at what they do. Let’s revisit Jenny’s example call earlier. Remember this part? By telling the caller about the skilled doctor and well trained staff, Jenny has done a great job of expressing the practice’s value. This caller now has a seed planted that this office is a good one and he should want to be a patient in such a knowledgeable practice. Whatever the patient’s chief complaint may be, provide reassurance that the practice can help.
    Watch how Jenny goes right into this next part. A well versed front desk team member can easily transition from step to step.

  • 5

    “I’m so sorry to hear that you are in pain, but no worries, you’ve called a GREAT office. Dr. Smith is really skillful and gentle and our assistants are well trained. Let’s reserve some time for you and Dr. Smith soon. We can see you tomorrow or Thursday. Which one could be better for you?

    Schedule dental appointment for patient.
    We prefer to call this section, “Booking a Dental Reservation.” Sadly, most Americas only go to the dentist when something is bothering them. Unfortunately, they do not place the same value on dental appointments that we do. The front desk needs to pull out all the “tricks” to attempt to increase patient attendance. Use words, “reserve,” “reserve time”, “reservation” when scheduling to RAISE the importance of the appointment in the patient’s mind.

  • 6

    “OK Charlie. Dr. Smith can certainly take care of that toothache tomorrow for you! You will feel so much better! I’d like to give you some directions to help you get here. Where will you be coming from?”

    This step is so simple, yet so often overlooked! It’s inconvenient to the office when a patient is late because he/she cannot find it! Do not assume that the caller knows all of the practice’s contact info! Sometimes the caller has the practice confused with another one or thinks the practice is located in the wrong city altogether. Even if the patient says he/she knows where the practice is located, please give a brief description of your location. You would be surprised how many patients still have no idea where the office is located.

  • 7

    “So that I can contact you, may I please have your best contact phone number and your email address?”

    This information will vary by office. Some get full name, address, phone numbers, and email address. Some practices want to discuss dental benefits before the appointment. Some offices prefer to have the patients feel value and come in to the office before discussing benefits. Those offices would rather have the value be the deciding factor for the patient and not the insurance benefits. What contact information does your practice want?

  • 8

    “Charlie, we always like to thank people for sending their friends and family members to us. How did you hear about us?” And then after response, “Charlie, we would love to see your family, too. Do you have any family members who would like to be seen?”

    Determine patient’s referral source and seize new referral opportunity.
    A practice should track how patients are coming into the practice so that it can know where it’s marketing dollars are working and where they are not. Not only does the practice want to know how the patient was referred, but the practice should capitalize on more referrals! Use this opportunity to maximize marketing dollars by asking the patient if there are any family members who also need a dental appointment.

  • 9

    “Charlie, you are all set for tomorrow at 2:00! Don’t forget to bring your medical and dental cards and a list of any current medications you are taking. I am going to send you an email reminder about your reserved time with Dr. Smith. Our contact information will also be in the e-mail, so if you forget where we are located, you can just check that email. We are looking forward to meeting you tomorrow! We will take good care of you!”

    Final instructions and confirm appointment day and time.
    Use the end of the call to give the caller special instructions. These things might get forgotten if we talk about them much earlier in the conversation. Finish up with letting the patient know that the practice will send an appointment reminder. Be sure to send the appointment reminder and any office information or paperwork digitally or via snail mail.

The New Patient Experience: The Middle

  • Middle: Patient Arrives

    Ok, so now the patient is arriving for their first visit with you. Let's give them a great MIDDLE experience!

  • 1

    Proper Greeting

    When the new patient enters the building, at least one of the team members at the front desk looks up and greets him/her by name, stands and offers a welcoming handshake. Please know WHO is coming in the office at all times! The purpose of a handshake is to initiate the “connection” we are attempting to continue to build with the patient.

  • 2

    Patient Paperwork

    Have the patient fill out the necessary paperwork or collect it if you've sent it ahead of time. The team member verifies that all the necessary information has been obtained and entered into the practice management software.

  • 3

    Notify the Team

    The front desk team member notifies the clinical team that the new patient is ready to be taken back to the treatment area.

  • 4

    Proper Hand-off

    When the clinical team member enters the reception area, the front desk team member introduces the new team member to the patient. Every “hand off” is done with an introduction of the new team member to the new patient by the current team member. Whenever a team member comes within 10 feet of a new patient, a friendly greeting is given, introductions are made and a handshake, if possible, is offered.

  • 5

    Office Tour

    Give an office tour. All team members should be well versed in giving an office tour that showcases that office’s personality and value.

  • 6

    Listen to the Patient

    Make sure that the office is doing all they can to make sure the patient is feeling heard and that their needs are being taken care of during the appointment.

  • 7

    Be Courteous

    Be sure to stay on time. Do not keep patients waiting!
    Do not leave the patient alone for an extended period of time. Chat with the patient. Get to know him/her.

  • 8

    Do Good Dentistry

    Let the patient know what you are doing, and do it well!

  • 9

    Patients Should Leave with Something in Their Hands

    Be sure to give the patient an office gift bag and/or an office folder with information about your practice. It’s important that patients leave with something in their hands. We take every opportunity possible to market the practice and to turn our patients into walking marketers for us!

The New Patient Experience: The End

  • End: Patient Leaves

    The appointment is over now. You have all gone above and beyond to make the patient feel welcome and you have taken care of all his/her needs. Now what?

  • 1

    Thank You Card

    We recommend sending a handwritten “Thank You” card to the patient the next day.
    The note will include a short note thanking them for their visit. Include a business card with their next appointment and document that the letter has been sent. The doctor will also sign the note.
    Thank you card example:
    Dear (patient’s name),
    It has been our sincere pleasure meeting you! We thank you kindly for choosing our of ce to provide for your dental and oral health care needs. We truly appreciate your trust!
    Kind Regards,
    Dr. __________________ and Team
    Doesn’t that card seem like a nice touch?

  • 2

    Survey

    Send a post appointment survey to your patients to allow them to give an opinion on their experience so the practice can see where it needs to improve.

  • 3

    Treatment Follow Ups

    If the patient requires further treatment, but did not schedule, be sure to follow up with him/her via our 2-2-2 Follow Up system.

  • 4

    Automations

    Do you have marketing email automations for your practice? If so, add patients to appropriate email automations. We must always be target marketing our patients!

  • 5

    Confirmations

    Be sure that contact information has been added in properly so the practice will be able to contact the patient for future appointments.