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Most of us remember late nights and cold pizza breakfasts as college students. Visiting home meant catching up on sleep. With luck, a parent cooked us a hot meal and did our laundry. No wonder humans are drawn to the easy comforts of home. Can patients be much different? This article looks at ways dentists keep patients feeling comfortable, known, and cared for so that they always come back to their dental home.
In 2001, the Gallup organization researched the dynamics of what it called the “constant customer” — the lifelong patron of a business. In the Gallup Management Journal the report concluded that clientele are neither “wooed” by the product nor its price, but by emotion. So patients don’t feel they are just a set of teeth, dentists have been increasing the volume of communications. Today’s patient is more likely than ever before to get a text, email of a Web or blog update, a request to be “friended” online, or hear a robo reminder. Yet, in this e-shuffle, patients question whether there is any real relationship with their dentist.
Mary Larson, an author and professor of communications at Northern Illinois University, said there is a reason that patients prefer a little more attachment than emailed reminders.
“As far back as Aristotle, it's been observed that humans are social animals, and need face-to-face contact with others in order to live and thrive. Also, consider the fact that solitary confinement is a severe penalty in prison,” Dr. Larson began.
So what can dentists do?
“My optometrist is an example. I pay more to see him because he talks to me as though he remembers my eyes, how long I’ve worn contacts, my situation. He asks about my daughter’s relocation, my husband, how my grandkids are doing at school. He makes a point of having a conversation with me about me — a friendship type talk,” she said.
Dr. Larson said both dentist and staff can make notes on the patient’s chart of things discussed that could be asked about at the next visit. After a while, patients’ stories are easier to remember; conversations pick up where they left off.
Jabber jawing and handshaking, while impressive, don’t replace professional courtesy. For example, Dr. Larson suggested that dental offices ask and make a note of how patients want to be addressed: “I tell people at my dentist’s office to call me Mary.” At the hospital, however, she is Dr., Ms. or Mrs. Larson.
Theresa Thomas is a business etiquette consultant from Orange County, CA. Among other programs, she teaches “Communications Etiquette for a Digital Age.” Wonder why she appreciates her dental office for asking how she wants to be reminded of appointments (she chose email)?
“I got a 2 a.m. text from my hair salon reminding me about my appointment. It startled me awake. I picked up my phone to see if it was my teenager with something urgent,” Ms. Thomas recalled.
Patients feel respected when asked for permission to be contacted at all. How also matters — even daytime phone calls might be disruptive to households with chronic illness or nightshift workers.
Apologies are delivered in person or phoned, followed by a letter. Thank yous are written not emailed. Financial arrangements are private. A sloppy front desk employee can break the practice’s “gentle dental staff”–type marketing promises before a new patient has met the doctor.
“I changed dentists because our great orthodontist had this surly front desk person. One day she loudly argued in front of other patients that my check would not get the cash discount this time that she gave me the last time I wrote a check.” Ms. Thomas recalled.
“You can’t email a handshake, a smile or eye contact, and emoticons are not for professional communication,” said Ms. Thomas. “You can’t show appreciation, gratitude or listen electronically. People have a lot of options and they are not as loyal as they used to be. People need more of that irreplaceable human touch.”
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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