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The Dental Patient Experience: What It Is & Why It Matters

Posted on May 26, 2022 by Mike Rigert

    dentist working on a patient

    “My favorite activity is going to see my dentist,” said no one ever. The unease and discomfort people often feel prior to a dental appointment tends to keep it off of people's top 10 fun list. 

    And that’s OK. That’s because your patients also appreciate that regular preventive maintenance visits and other care are vital to their long-term dental health and quality of life.

    What’s more important is that, just like in the consumer world, dental patients have higher customer service and convenience expectations when it comes to their care. More patients expect their practice to offer a dentistry experience that is comfortable, convenient, and accessible—and they’re willing to switch practices to get it. A recent poll found that 69 percent of patients would switch practices to get better services.

    That’s why, now more than ever, your ability to not only deliver quality care but also create a positive patient experience is critical to retaining patients and attracting new ones. It’s a key component to ensuring the long-term profitability and success of your business.

     

    Outlining the Patient Experience

    The dental experience is much more than the actual appointment. It’s every touch point a patient has with your practice before, during, and after the visit. That includes every communication a patient has with you from the time they book an appointment all the way through to post-visit bill payment and arranging follow-up care. 

    Your interaction with patients should look something like this:

    • A patient is prompted to book a visit for a routine check-up from getting a recall message from your practice or being reminded from seeing patient education in your newsletter. 
    • Your practice reaches out to the patient with appointment reminders and to confirm their booking.
    • Your practice provides the patient with pre-visit instructions including pre-appointment patient intake forms to help ensure they arrive prepared and on-time.
    • Your staff greets the patient when they arrive for the actual appointment and engages with them in a friendly and upbeat manner throughout the visit.
    • Your practice communicates post-care instructions and sends reminders to schedule follow-up care.
    • Patient receives information on how to easily finalize bill payment for the visit.

    You’ve got any number of opportunities across the appointment workflow to interact with your patients. It’s critical to ensure that those touch points are quick, easy, and convenient for the patient. It’s important to guide patients through the care journey in a way that feels seamless and effortless so they have a satisfying experience.

     

    Benefits of Achieving a Positive Patient Experience

    It may seem cliche but it’s helpful to view the dental patient experience as a golden opportunity for you to gain a win-win. Not only does your patient benefit from getting timely quality dental care but your ability to produce happier patients has a reciprocal impact on your business. 

    1. Retention: Giving your patients an excellent patient experience means better health outcomes for your patients, reduced gaps in care, and a stronger relationship with your patients. Don’t forget that it costs five times as much to attract a new patient than it does to retain a returning patient. By providing the in-demand services and technologies patients want, you’ll gain a competitive edge that minimizes patient switching and helps you build a larger, more loyal patient base.

    2. Patient Acquisition: Patients that have a superior experience are more willing to share referrals with family and friends and leave you glowing 5-star reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp. This will help your practice cultivate an appealing online reputation that will attract more new patients. Your ability to engage and be responsive to patients’ concerns in the online reviews will impress prospective patients and help them choose you over your competitors.

    3. Modern Tools and Services : Patients will be drawn to your practice by the availability of modern tools and amenities that provide a smoother and easier practice experience. Prospective patients will see you offer things like online scheduling, two-way text messaging, and a user-friendly website that provides them full access to your services and practice information. Modern patient communications solutions allow you to interact with patients more effectively and efficiently, reducing the workload on short-staffed front offices and creating operational efficiencies that lower costs.

    Your acquisition and retention efforts are directly impacted by your practice’s ability to consistently deliver a great patient experience. The degree to which you can implement modern tools to elevate that experience will determine your ability to increase retention rates and consistently expand your patient pool.

     

    Where Can I Make Improvements to the Patient Experience

    You can make immediate, more incremental changes to your operations policies and practices that appeal to your patients and help them have a more comfortable visit experience. Some of these include:

    • Customize communications to each patient’s preference, whether that’s text, email, or voice.
    • Make billing processes more transparent.
    • Use wait lists to get patients in sooner for visits
    • Offer easy ways for patients to provide feedback

    But the areas you can make the most meaningful upgrades to the patient experience involve adding patient communications technology. Today’s more consumer-centric patients expect a range of modern conveniences that enable them to have a less confusing, more hassle-free appointment. 

    Phone calls and manual reminder systems are not only ineffective, they’re a turnoff for many patients. Instead of dealing with intrusive and bothersome phone calls and voicemails, patients expect to be able to text their dental practice. Texting allows them the freedom and versatility to reply or respond to messages at their own convenience, just like in the business world. The in-demand patient communications abilities patients increasingly want also include:

    • Online appointment scheduling
    • Automated reminders and messaging
    • Real-time two-way text messaging
    • Digital patient intake to streamline check-in and reduce wait times
    • A feature-filled, user-friendly website and patient portal

    A comprehensive patient communications platform can give you these capabilities while also allowing you to reach more patients more effectively. The automation built into these solutions and tools means you can reduce the manual workload on your staff and create operational efficiencies that help you lower costs and increase productivity. 

    These tools free up your staff for higher priority tasks like assisting in-office patients to support an overall better patient experience. 

     

    Best Practices for the Dental Patient Experience

    No matter how you approach your practice’s patient communications, there are specific best practices that can improve your patient experience management and help you create a more enjoyable patient journey. These best practices and approaches can also help you lower operational costs and create efficiencies of scale to assist more patients despite having fewer staff members:

    1. Send out recall notices: Patients expect to get notification messages when it’s time for their routine preventive visits like a 6-month check-up, cleaning, and fluoride treatment. Otherwise they forget and there’s gaps in their dental care. When you use an automated recall tool, you can send patients notification texts or emails based on the appointment type or the date of their last visit to ensure they remember to book an appointment

    2. Don’t forget appointment reminders: Your patients don’t want to get phone calls and voicemails. Text or email appointment reminders so patients calendar their appointments and avoid having to reschedule. A digital reminder tool saves your staff valuable time by automatically sending text or email reminders to patients, removing a time-consuming manual burden so they can focus on your in-office patients’ needs. A reminder solution increases confirmations, reduces no-shows, and creates efficiencies for your practice.

    3. Provide electronic intake and pre-visit instructions: Text or email patients a secure link to conveniently complete patient intake forms electronically prior to their appointment to streamline the appointment workflow and reduce wait times. A digital intake tool can automate the intake process, reduce costly transcription errors, and create a more seamless check-in experience. Send patients pre-visit instructions such as way-finding directions, to bring their retainer, or other specific details to help ensure patients arrive prepared and on-time.

    4. Offer online scheduling: Patients are more tech-savvy and want the same modern conveniences they get in making online purchases, ordering a meal, or reserving a hotel room. Place a prominent link on your website for patients to schedule or request an appointment so they have easy, on-demand access for dental care. An online scheduling tool gives you a competitive advantage that will help you attract new patients searching for a provider online. You can also include a link to book an appointment in your patient newsletters, giving your patients yet another access point to schedule a visit.

    5. Consider teledentistry: If you serve patients who have barriers to accessing dental care (particularly specialty services) such as great distances to your location or lack of access to transportation, consider adding a teledentistry tool. This allows you to offer remote care consultations and treatment planning while sparing patients the burden and expense of making an in-office visit for every appointment. Twenty-four percent of dentists in private practices used teledentistry during the pandemic and usage levels continue to be higher than before COVID.

    6. Provide two-way text messaging: Give your patients the ability to communicate with you quickly and more easily. Whether they have a question, concern, or need to reschedule, two-way texting makes your practice more accessible. Patients don’t have time to make phone calls and wait on hold. A two-way texting capability allows your staff to reply in between assisting in-office patients, helps lower phone volumes, and allows you to have a more personalized, ongoing conversation with your patients.

    7. Simplify bill payment: Patients often say that figuring out billing statements and making payments is one of the most confusing and frustrating parts of their care experience. Remove the confusion at this step in the process by providing an online bill pay tool. Patients can easily make payments to their balance right from their smartphone and avoid having to mail in payments or make a payment over the phone. This provides convenient 24/7 access to patients who want to reconcile their account without all the fuss.

    8. Use post-appointment messaging: Since most patients forget a large portion of what they’re told during an appointment, send post-visit care instructions to improve adherence and support better outcomes. You’ll also want to send key notifications to remind patients to schedule follow-up care and ongoing preventive care. A patient communications solution can help you automatically send out post-appointment instructions and notifications based on various patient criteria. It will help you effectively reduce confusion, guide patients through their journey, and ensure they book important follow-up visits.

    9. Assess their experience with surveys: It’s difficult to know what kind of dental experience you’re giving your patients without getting their feedback and insights. Send out post-appointment surveys so patients can evaluate their experience and let you know if they would recommend your practice to others. A digital survey tool allows you to automate that process and to also invite happy patients who give you high scores to leave you an online review to help you grow your business.

     

    Key Takeaways

    It’s vital to the long-term profitability and success of your practice to give your patients the best dental experience possible. Your ability to improve retention rates and boost acquisition numbers hinges on you upgrading the patient experience and implementing tools that will help patients connect with you quicker, easier, and more conveniently. 

    These best practices can help you enhance your dental patient experience, which will generate happier patients and give you a competitive edge:

    • Give patients the option of modern accessibility and communication through text messaging. 
    • Implement digital patient communication tools that will produce a better patient experience, help your staff reach more patients more efficiently and reliably, and differentiate your practice from competitors.
    • Align messaging to each patient’s communication preference (text, email or voice) for more effective and personalized interaction.
    • Take a patient-centric approach to evaluating the online resources you offer to ensure your patients have quick and effortless access to your practice.

     

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    To learn more about best practices and tips on how to attract more patients to your dental practice, download the guide, “The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need to Get More Dental Patients.”

    DOWNLOAD NOW

    Mike Rigert

    Mike Rigert

    Mike Rigert is a writer and content marketing specialist with more than a decade of expertise in the B2B SaaS healthcare sector. He enjoys finding fresh and creative ways to tell the story about Solutionreach's innovative and life-changing patient relationship management platform. In his spare time, Mike enjoys diving into books, geeking out with scifi, expanding his knowledge of military history, and spending time with his wife and three kids.

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