I graduated from Dental School in 2012. After practicing as an associate for over 3 years, I purchased an established dental practice, Danube Dental Clinic, in Kitchener, Ontario. While my first year as an Associate provided great opportunity for exploring patient expectations and psychology, I was so focused on getting my MOs and DOs done properly and efficiently that I didn't focus much on the personal aspect of dentistry. Purchasing my own practice and starting again from scratch brought with it another chance to learn from first encounters.
I have heard from many advisors and transition specialists that you should be very conservative in your first 1-2 years with respect to treatment planning. If you take over for a conservative dentist and start developing grand treatment plans you are likely to push patients away. "Put in the time and build trust" I would often hear. I heard from a number of Dentists and Practice Management authorities that "if you see each patient for a recall exam every 9-12 months, you might be looking at 3-4 years before they feel like they know you". Other Dentists told me that "patients don't know the details, their trust is blind". And for the most part, I agreed with what I was told. But, I also spent time thinking about ways to improve, enhance and accelerate the transition process. "How can I get them to believe in me and, therefore, what I am recommending?" I would ask myself. Here are a few things that worked well for me:
1. Build familiarity quickly.
Don't just wait to interact with your patients at their recall exams! Many patients at my practice are on 3-4 month periodontal care schedules. I make sure that I see them every time. By doing this, I generated 3-4 patient interactions per year with each of them. After 18 months at my new practice, I would often have patients saying things like: "it must be 3 or 4 years that you've been here now...". PERFECT! Even 6 month recall patients saw me at least twice a year. When children come in, one or both parents accompany them. This gave me the opportunity for bonus interactions. I would either come out to the waiting room to chat with the parents or invite them into the operatory so that we could chat while I cared for their child. So do your best to MAX OUT YOUR PATIENT INTERACTIONS!
2. Maximize transparency and build trust faster.
"Wear out your intra-oral camera...it's already been paid for!"
I have a goal that I reach every day: to take at least 30 intra-oral pictures to share with patients. Before I get into specifics I can tell you that this habit enabled me to perform way more dentistry in my first year than would have been possible had I relied only on the power of "blind trust". Open contact with food impaction and bone/attachment loss? Take a picture. Heavily restored tooth with peripheral cracking? Take a picture. I have found that patients are terrified of cracks - it is therefore a great motivator toward restorative treatment. It is easier for them to make the connection between cracks and eventual tooth loss compared to if you simply tell them: "this tooth is heavily restored and thus structurally compromised". Certain visual aids really drive a message home.
Here is an interesting experiment that I started trying out 2 years ago: when a new patient comes to my office, I take a full-arch occlusal shots and then leave them on the TV screen while I pop out to perform a recall exam. When I return, I say something like: "well, there's the big picture" and then I wait 10-15 seconds for a response. Most times, whether clinical decay is present or not, the patient will answer: "Well, that doesn't look good" or "I knew I had some cavities". I find this experiment useful in many ways. If decay is indeed present, the patient is primed and ready for the diagnosis and treatment of it. If no decay is present (in light of a patient thinking they are looking at cavities), I can exercise the opportunity to show that patient I am honest and trustworthy by reassuring them contrary to their beliefs.
3. Connect with your patients post-operatively.
Every Friday I make a list of 10-12 patients who received treatment during the previous week. I reach out to these patients by phone and I do so after 6pm. This increases the likelihood that I will catch them at home and get to speak to them directly. I ask them how they are feeling and if they have any questions regarding post-op healing. I ask them how they found the procedure. And, I always ask them if they need anything to heal more comfortably. For extraction and endodontic patients, I call same-day in the evening. The majority of patients love this! Most often they express disbelief that a doctor or dentist would call them personally "in this day and age". I can assure you that this is one of the most effective patient retention tactics. After a year, you will have connected with a large number of your regular patients through care calls and you will demonstrate to them that you care about their wellbeing. Many of these patients go on to leave positive online reviews. They are also more likely to trust your treatment planning recommendations in future.
Start implementing these tips and I'll be in touch next month with some ideas for building your reputation and bolstering your new patient flow!
Danube Dental Clinic