November 12, 2023
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It’s a busy day at the front desk. There are patients coming in and out. People want to make appointments and pay their bills. Some have questions about their insurance coverage. The clinical staff too might have questions. Sometimes, the doctor comes up to the front desk to ask a question or make a “Special Request”.

Sound familiar?

The front desk, by virtue of their position in the patient-care flow process, interacts with more people than any other area of the practice.

Oops! What about those phone calls?

How can a front desk person prioritize the people they encounter?

In a highly functional team, each member not only understands their role but in order for the team to function optimally, they understand other team members’ roles and how each interact to give the patient the best possible experience and make the entire process efficient.

That’s why it’s so important to have a discussion about the practice’s philosophy of patient priorities that are consistent with the practice’s VALUES.

Sarah is on the phone with a potential new patient. In her office, the lifetime value of each new patient is approximately $5,000. In the midst of the call, the doctor comes up to the front and goes right up to Sarah, who is the “go to”, “gets it done” person. Sarah doesn’t want to ignore the BOSS, so she politely asks the person on the phone if they would mind being put on HOLD.

The doctor proceeds to ask Sarah a question that could have waited or be answered by another team member.

Sarah felt conflicted.

Maybe the person on the phone stayed on. Maybe they didn’t. Either way, the impression that was given to the potential new patient was that someone else was more important. Is that the way to start out a new relationship? Does a new patient having such attitude more or less likely to accept the treatment that will eventually be presented? Will they respect the practice’s time and show up for their appointments in a timely manner?

Little things can send powerful messages.

That’s why having a CRUCIAL CONVERSATION about priorities is so important, and a having a reference guide of HOW WE DO THINGS is critical to avoid a dissolution of priorities.

And by the way, the only way Sarah’s doctor or any of her coworkers could know that she’s on the phone with a new patient is for her to have a brightly colored NEW PATIENT PHONE SHEET in front of her for all to see. Such a colored sheet communicates that Sarah is on the a “high priority” call and should not be disturbed. Doing so might jeopardize $5,000 or more of revenue to the practice.

The following is a list of the types of patients one encounters in a practice and the priority in which they might be attended to. These are the values that were used in my Midtown Manhattan, fee for service, concierge-style practice. You should determine how such priorities are compatible with your practice’s values.

Typically, people pay the most attention to the person in front of them. That’s why during a patient hand-off, it is so important for everyone to be aware of the priorities for all patient encounters, in person and open the phone.

As an example, should a patient be brought from the clinical area to the front desk, and the person there is on the phone with a New Patient, that call should be given priority as it represents new revenue for the practice. Without new revenue, the practice will wither and die. So, that call should be given the priority in deserves.

How that situation is dealt with, is a matter of who else in the practice can take care of the patient at the front desk. The lesson should be, don’t leave the patient hanging at the front desk waiting 10 minutes for the person on the phone to make the new patient appointment.

Existing patient should never be ignored. They should always be made to feel that they are being given the attention and respect they expect.

People should always be treated with respect. And the level of customer service that reflects that respect should be clearly communicated to every member of the practice. You can read more about this in my book, “From Hello to Hugs”.

As far as prioritizing “new business”, how one deal with calls from referring doctors’ office should also be clearly defined, as one such call might result in multiple new patient referrals.


1. Potential New Patient on the phone (DO NOT DISTURB)

2. New Patient in the reception area (FIRST IMPRESSION)

3. Patient in the Doctor’s chair (DO NOT DISTURB THE DOCTOR)

4. Patient being presented a treatment plan or financial arrangements.

5. Patient at the front desk

6. Existing Patient in the reception area

7. Existing patient on the phone

8. Potential patients communicating digitally

One might say, why would I not give priority to the patient in front of me? Isn’t that respectful?

If priority isn’t given NEW business, you might eventually have NO business, as new patients are the lifeblood of a practice. However, should you have an abundance of new patients, then you might throw caution to the wind and rearrange your priorities.

All patients are important, and each should be given appropriate attention by the team. The responsibility of each team member should be clearly defined so that the practice’s priorities are understood, and all patients cared for appropriately based on the practice’s definition of “customer service” and how it interfaces with your values.

How can your values and a generalized prioritization be communicated?

Thinking about what your values actually are and then having “crucial conversations” is the only way to effectively communicate and implement such a VALUE system.

Your “VALUES” put into action is called your “CULTURE”. Want to help yourself define your priorities? Do you even have a written form that communicates your values in action?

Every practice can benefit from having a well thought out and written CULTURE GUIDE.

And if you use the coupon “culture23” – you can save 25% off our Practice Culture Guide and Workbook – get yours today!

Towards excellent values,


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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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