Silence, Just Might Be Deadly

July 11, 2021
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No one likes to hear complaints.  In a Practice, when patients are unhappy, it just injects additional stress into an already stressful system.  Who wants to see a volcano they live near erupt?  

And yet, if you don’t know that a patient is upset, how can it be dealt with?  And, how will the patient deal with it?  

Most likely, if the patient’s complaint or concerns are not dealt with, bad things will happen. They might leave the practice.  They will probably stop referring others.  More disconcerting, they will leave the dreaded 1-star review, dragging down the coveted 5-star rating.  Neither scenario does anyone any good.  The patient looses a good Doctor and the Practice loses a patient and other potential ones who might use reviews as a benchmark with which to judge a Doctor’s competence.

Having an open system of communications can offer patients an Avenue by which they can express their concerns and voice their complaints.

Encouragement vs. Discouragement.

Most people hate hearing complaints.  I didn’t like them either but I appreciated the opportunity they presented.  Hearing a complaint brings with it the hope for improving our patient care and service.  I chose encouragement.

I always asked new patients why they left their previous dentist (you should consider doing this too; it’s educational).  Other than moving, the most common complaints were actually NOT about the dental care itself but rather the “customer service”, or lack thereof, that they experienced by someone on the staff other than the Doctor.

That’s why a direct line to the Doctor is so important if one is to get honest feedback.

How can such lines of communication be established?

Here are a few ways that I’ve used and found helpful.

1.  Setting Expectations:  When we started our treatment relationship, we verbally discussed how we want to know anything that happens.  We reinforced this by giving every patient access to the Doctor via personal email and cell phone during our “3-Card Technique.”.  This was also presented in written form as part of our “6 Agreements. More in these amazing techniques below.
2. Opening the channel:  Not only did (should) the Doctor directly communicate with every new patient prior to their initial visit, but they communicated with them afterwards as well.  That opened the channel of communications showing that it’s available when needed.  Even now that I’m retired from clinical practice, patients still use that channel.
3. Consistent messaging:  “How was your visit today?”  Should always be followed by “Can I answer any questions you might have?”  This double “ask” is significantly more powerful than a single question, as it shows the patient that you really care about the response.  Such questions should be asked of a patient by everyone who interacts with them.
4. Keeping the Channel Open: This is accomplished by consistently communicating with patients, even between appointments.  Emails, newsletters and even texts can be used to stimulate a 2-way conversation by adding the following sentence:  We always seek to improve our services.  We always appreciate any suggestions you might have.
5. Follow-Up:  When a patient fails to follow through with scheduled recommendations, a personal note was sent by the Doctor.  It too contained the cell phone and personal email so that a patient might reach out without concern that the staff will be involved.

Customer service creates an environment that produces stronger, longer lasting and more resilient relationships.  While the Doctor-Patient relationship is important, the relationship of the patient to the entire dental practice team should not be underestimated.

Communications with your patients is the oil that lubricates the relationship.  Keeping the tank full, the oil flowing and clear, will result in a less stressful, happier and more profitable practice.  It will also encourage better patient outcomes from therapies.  

So communicate away!

To your excellent clarity, communications and success,

Michael

P.S.  Want to know more about the “3-Card Technique” or the “6-Agreements”?  It’s a freebie worth THOUSANDS, and yours when you schedule your COMPLIMENTARY CONSULTATION.

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Dr. Michael Goldberg is one of the leading educators on dental practice management in the United States.

Michael ran and sold a prestigious group practice in Manhattan and has been on Faculty at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Medical Center for 30 years including Director of the GPR program and Director of the course on Practice Management.

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