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Building a practice

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How to create patient trust and gain a competitive advantage

Many doctors are concerned about the growth of corporate dental chains and the impact they have on dental practices and on dentistry in general. Many franchised corporate dental chains rely on heavy external marketing, promoting their low price and full range of services. They place heavy emphasis on production goals and quotas, often leading to overdiagnosis and overtreatment of patients.

The resulting pressure to produce, as well as ethical concerns, often leads to significant turnover of doctors and staff. As a result, there is little, if any, long-term personal relationship between the doctor and patient.

While the patient perception is that dental care from a franchised corporate dental chain will be less costly, the reality is that patients often pay more. Accordingly, there’s little personal trust between the doctor and patient in corporate franchised dental chains, often leading patients to leave the practice after a relatively short period of time.

The reality is that, when patients trust you, you can charge a higher fee than lower-cost competitors, attract new patients and get them to accept needed treatment.

Take, for example, Publix. Despite having slightly higher prices than low-cost competitor Walmart, employee-owned Publix grocery stores have garnered huge financial success by offering trained, knowledgeable salespeople who care about their customers in a clean, safe environment. In effect, Publix gets customers to pay extra for the personal touch in a supermarket atmosphere. In return, it promises to keep prices competitive and return profits back to their employees.

How can doctors build trust and gain a competitive edge? Offering the highest-quality clinical care is a given. But there are other steps you can take, as well. Here are 10 nonclinical strategies to build patient trust.

1. Establish a personal relationship with the patient and show that you care. Patients want to buy dental services from doctors they know and like. Doctors need to make a favorable first impression by making patients feel important. First, determine the name the patient wishes to be called by asking, “What name do your friends call you?” Then make sure to call the patient by his or her preferred name.

The doctor should also offer patients a firm handshake and touch each patient on the shoulder or in some other appropriate manner to demonstrate a sense of caring. It’s also very important that the doctor bond with patients at each encounter. Sitting next to them, looking them in the eyes and discussing their hobbies, special interests (as determined from the new patient form) or family and professional life allows the doctor to develop a personal bond with patients, even though the exchange may last only a minute or so.

Finally, give new patients your cell phone number to show you are available to meet their dental needs. While few patients will actually use it, it’s a huge trust-builder.

2. Ask patients about their dental concerns. Doctors spend far too much time talking and too little time listening. Give patients uninterrupted time to discuss their dental care concerns. Show your interest by repeating back to the patient what you have heard to make sure you are on the same page.

3. Show and tell. Educate patients upfront using a video of available services in the reception area and on your website, and use an intraoral camera, digital X-rays, mirrors, etc. to show patients their specific dental problem.

4. Get staff members involved. Discuss needed treatment for each patient with staff members at the morning huddle. Hygienists and other members of the dental team should point out areas of dental concern on digital X-rays and intraoral camera shots to the patient before the doctor arrives in the operatory.

5. Start, and stay, on time. Being on time instills confidence in patients that you know what you’re doing clinically and that the practice is well managed.

6. Give power back to the patient. Describe treatment options in layman’s terms. Then provide your analysis of the options and a personal recommendation by saying, “If it were me or my family member, I would undertake the following course of treatment,” and give the reasons why.

7. Build trust in your services. Provide reference letters from satisfied patients, written testimonial letters and video testimonials that attest to your expertise and trust from satisfied patients.

8. Outline the negative consequences if treatment is not performed. Patients need to know the downside of not accepting a treatment recommendation. Discuss not only the specific implications but also the potential impact on their general health.

9. Care about pain. Show you care for the patient personally by thoroughly discussing the probability and severity of pain in advance of treatment. Take steps to minimize pain and stop the procedure, if necessary, to ask how the patient is doing.

10. Follow up. Call patients following all major procedures to see how they are recovering and to what extent they may need follow-up care. In this high-tech world, receiving a personal phone call from the doctor makes a huge positive impression on patients.

Also, don’t forget to send thank-you letters to patients after the new patient exam and any time they refer other patients to your practice. The new patient exam letter should thank patients for selecting your practice as their dental home, tell them the doctor enjoyed learning more about them and encourage them to refer their friends, family members and colleagues to the practice.

Contact your trusted LGT advisor for more information at (214) 871-7500.