If you are interested in doing “one tooth dentistry” there is not much reason for you to spend time trying to get to know your clients. Most likely you will only see them on an urgent care basis “Doc, your filling broke while I was chewing ice. Can you fix me up like you did five years ago?” If you want to practice more comprehensive care the new client experience is one of the first important steps in relationship and value development.
The new client experience begins long before any phone call to your office. Today a majority if potential clients will have looked at your website at least once and probably talked to an existing client as well. Millennials will probably have Googled you to look for reviews or complaints. By the time your office phone rings the person on the other end expects your staff to be happy that they called and helpful. They do not expect a long quiz about insurance and data gathering. Rule #1 – Get the patient appointed before they hang up. You can gather data via your website, a phone call or mail when it is more convenient for all involved.
On the appointed day all staff should be alerted that a new client is coming at the morning huddle. We want to be sure we know how to pronounce the person’s name and have any final paperwork needed ready before they arrive. The assigned dental assistant should be introduced to the new client by the receptionist. Then the assistant should give the patient a short tour of the office introducing people as appropriate. Only then should the client be escorted to the location where an initial interview can take place. The interview location should be non-threatening and reasonably private. In our office we choose to use a treatment room with the patient seated upright and slightly above the doctor and the assistant beside the client where she can take notes.
The staff person reviews the patient’s medical and dental history for obvious issues and concerns and follows up those areas with open ended questions that allow the use of Emotional Intelligence to gauge the level of involvement of the patient at this point in time. Essentially we are beginning to gauge the persons dental IQ and developing a needs analysis. We want to understand where the client sees value and where we can provide benefit with our services. We then alert the doctor that it is time for his/her portion of the interview. The staff person makes an introduction if the client is not already familiar with the doctor. The doctor thanks the person for coming to our office and asks the client if there are any questions from their office tour or the discussion so far. Then the doctor asks if there are questions about him/her, the office or office philosophy. Finally the doctor reviews the “Outcomes, Means, Prices” approach we believe in. Once again we are trying to use our Emotional Intelligence to more deeply understand the needs and desires of the client and to understand if this is a person we can work with to find “win – win” solutions. During this time the client should be talking 70% of the time and staff/doctor talking 30% of the time. Up to this point we should be determining big picture goals not talking in technical terms. This would be the time to ask the client to tell about their dental experiences or family history. Also, this would be where we might tell a story about the value of comprehensive care.
The staff person then goes over the medical and dental history with the doctor after asking the client to “chime in” if anything is missed or not correct and an opportunity for follow up questions. Finally, the doctor asks if the client is comfortable with him/her performing an examination of the head, neck and oral tissues. And, asks permission to tell the truth about what he/she sees as seen at this moment in time. Only after getting a yes to both questions should the exam move ahead. We allow about 10 minutes of staff time and 30 minutes of doctor time for the interview and intra-extra oral exam once the client is seated. There are rare occasions this does not work but over 35 years it has proven to work well in our office.
So where is the “value” in all this effort? Clients see that we are letting them be the guide to reach the outcomes they want - not our need to make a payment on the “new boat”. We get a chance to use our Emotional Intelligence to determine whether this person will add joy to our, and our staffs’, lives – if not, no amount of money is worth the aggravation of a lousy client. Our clients know we want to develop a real relationship of trust and respect that engenders mutual long-term commitment to one another – this is a rare item in today’s commodity driven health care system. We have had a chance to begin the education of the client about true comprehensive care that is values based and recognizes the client and doctor as the final arbiters of care to be delivered. We are establishing a “permission based” relationship – we don’t do things without getting an OK first. We are establishing an “expectations based” relationship – we explain what is going to happen before we perform treatment. We are establishing a “fee based” relationship – we discuss fees openly and expect the client, not insurance, to arrange mutually acceptable payment arrangements. When these elements are in alignment there is no longer a need to “sell dentistry” – a comprehensive exam, through diagnosis, thoughtful treatment plan and respectful (non-technical) treatment conference will provide plenty of clients who choose the best you can offer.