Patient Satisfaction Will Pay the Bills


Janice Hurley

Clinical skills aside, from the point of view of the patient, it’s the little things that set one practice apart from another. It’s the visual and verbal cues, and the office energy that your patients notice.

I have over 25 years of experience as a dental consultant, but I write this from the vantage point of a patient who had two implants done within 12 months, with vastly different experiences. A number of little things made my experience with Office 2 so much better than with Office 1. Both offices had been recommended by my general dentist, and both doctors were board-certified Oral Surgeons. This article was written to give every dental practice a chance to grade themselves—from the patient’s point of view.

The Visual Cues

At Office 1:

  • The exterior of the office was old and in need of paint.
  • The front door did not have the doctor’s name on it.
  • The interior featured dark lighting and out-of-date furniture.
  • The doctor looked very tired and often seemed frustrated with his assistant.
  • The office music was Hawaiian music that the staff let me know they were very tired of hearing.
  • The staff all had on different styles of scrubs that were old and ill-fitting.
  • The doctor’s chest hair showed through the top of his scrubs and his nose hairs needed to be clipped.
  • The X-ray unit creaked and moved when it wasn’t supposed to. (The assistant let me know it was much in need of repair.)
  • The entire team bunched together in twos and threes, talking and seeming unclear on what they might do next.
  • The doctor walked to the front of the administrative area to let the patient coordinator know he was unhappy with a scheduling change.

At Office 2:

  • The exterior of the building was nice—nothing fancy but in a good neighborhood.
  • The front door had the practice logo and the doctor’s name clearly displayed.
  • The interior was gorgeous, modern and professional.
  • The friendly administrative team was dressed in professional attire.
  • The clinical team wore matching scrubs that fit well and had the practice logo stitched on the top.
  • They had a very nice private consultation room, which was the setting for my New Patient exam.
  • The X-ray machine was the latest in 3D digital photography and I could see just exactly where I would need additional bone before my implant.
  • The doctor was energetic and full of enthusiasm for his work.
  • Every team member seemed focused and on task, and many were smiling.
  • I received post-op instructions, gauze and a cold pack in an attractive little bag for my convenience.

The Verbal Cues

At Office 1:

  • When I arrived at the office the treatment coordinator said: “Did I send you any paperwork? Sometimes I do—sometimes I forget.”
  • An assistant called my name out from the inner hallway instead of walking out to greet me.
  • The doctor promised, but failed, to call in a prescription—then blamed it on his assistant.
  • He didn’t listen when I said that I wanted to avoid using the tissue from the top of my mouth. He said, “Surely you don’t want to use cadaver bone.”
  • The doctor called me Janet and my name is Janice.
  • He let the assistant know during my surgery that he didn’t really like this particular brand of implant.
  • He asked her the size number of the implant several times; I was really hoping she got that part right.
  • He left at the end of the surgery without saying goodbye or telling me how he thought things had gone clinically.
  • The front-desk person asked how much of the balance I would like to pay as I handed her my credit card. I resisted saying, “I am only guessing, but I’m pretty sure the doctor would like me to pay all of it.”

At Office 2:

  • When I arrived, they already had my information in their computer because I was able to enter it on their website.
  • On my second visit, they let me know right away that the doctor was running about 10 minutes late and that this was very unusual for their office. They gave me two movie passes when I left, saying, “These are from the doctor. He is very sorry that he was unable to see you on time. We will work very hard to see that it never happens again.”
  • On the day of my surgery, I was asked for payment. They said, “Let’s go ahead and take care of all your paperwork now so you won’t be bothered with that when you leave.”
  • The oral surgeon was enthusiastic about the newest techniques in implants and let me know that “bank bone” would be an excellent option for that area where I was in need of an implant.

I think you get the point. Each and every one of those things listed above did not clinically affect the end result of my implant placement or osseointegration. Both implants were a clinical success. But as a patient, my experiences were vastly different. After my experience with Office 1, I returned to my general dentist saying, "You have got to have someone else you can send me to!"

It’s the little things. “Bank bone” sounds better than “cadaver bone,” even when your patients know it’s only semantics. But all wrapped up together, those little things create the sum of the patient experience and it’s what they go back to tell your referring doctors.



Author: Janice Hurley-Trailor
Published: 10/31/2012
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