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In helping your patients feel as comfortable being seen by your associate dentist as they do with you, a little professional etiquette goes a long way. Because a small misstep can tarnish the good feelings in a loyal patient, it may be time to review the some best practices for continued success.
When a new doctor joins your practice, mail patients an introduction letter with photo. Share the news on your website and other venues, such as Facebook. To new patients, a “Welcome to our practice” letter introducing all staff with short biographies and photos should be mailed before their appointment. When patients put faces with names, the image of “dentist” softens. Familiarity with the associate commences.
Karen Hickman, a contributor to the book Dishing Up Smiles and the owner of a Fort Wayne, IN, etiquette protocol training firm, suggests dentists devote 10-12 hours to customer service training for all staff. As a consultant, Ms. Hickman advises that dental staff use handouts. “Many offices I’m working with have a card stock picture and background on them.” When the topic of scheduling with the associate arises, the patient is handed the bio sheet.
Do not unknowingly schedule patients with an associate and cross your fingers that they’ll be OK with it. For the associate to be accepted by the patient, a personal introduction is a must and permission should be required from patients before appointments are scheduled with associates.
When scheduling, if it is taking a long time to find a workable slot for the patient, staff can ask, “Do you want to see the associate sooner, or keep looking for a new date?”
When the patient arrives at the office, the front desk staff announces: “Dr. Old will be treating you today, but Dr. Old has asked Dr. New to also check on you today so he (or she) can become familiar with you in case it is the weekend, or you have to be seen any reason when Dr. Old is unavailable. Is that OK?”
For credibility and respectfulness, the doctor should make time to personally introduce the associate and patient, rather than leaving it to staff.
When Dr. New examines Dr. Old’s patient, he (or she) repeats the same story as the front desk: “I wanted us to meet and take a peek in your mouth so I get to know you, just in case I’m on call and you need to be seen.”
However, if an associate find himself/herself eye-to-eye with patients prior to a formal introduction, the associate needs to introduce himself/herself to the patient with a smile and a handshake. “The dentist tends to know who the patient is, therefore the patient should know who they are,” said Suzanne Norse, contributor to book Power of Civility. Ms. Norse added, “Patients already feel at a disadvantage without also having an unnamed hand in their mouth.”
“Eventually,” said dentist Eugene Heller, a Georgia-based dental practice transition and management consultant, writer and lecturer, “the patients will migrate. After asking which dentist the patient wants to see, 50 percent will say ‘I’ll see either one who fits my schedule,’ 25 percent will say ‘Dr. New,’ and 25 percent will say ‘No one but Dr. Old touches this mouth.’”
Integrating an associate into the practice requires social skills. To transfer goodwill between doctors, never assume, always ask: “Have you met (name of associate)?” If already introduced, staff can still share their biggest friendliest hello with: “Well, it’s good to see you again!”
Janyce Hamilton is an award-winning Chicagoland freelance dental writer and editor. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered, or any comments on this column, to Chicago Dental Society.
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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