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Front Desk

by Stephanie Sisk

CDS dentists have many roles in their dental offices. You are doctors, first and foremost, but you are also business managers, new business development leaders and team-builders. This online column will help you stay on top of the latest dental trends and resources as you juggle all of your roles.

  • September 14, 2016

Nurture the connection with your patients


The research is everywhere: various scientific studies show you have between three and seven seconds to make a first impression.

To pick just one, a Princeton University study had people look at a microsecond of video of a political candidate. Research subject went on to predict – with 70 percent accuracy – who would win the election based on that microsecond of film. Snap judgments in a tenth of a second? That’s daunting.

For dentists and physicians the bar is even higher. Doctors must adopt a professional and confident demeanor to assure a new patient of their technical ability, but they should also be warm and approachable, allowing patients to relax and validate they’ve made the right choice.

There’s a succession of staff that contributes to that first impression, starting with front office personnel offering a cordial greeting at the door through to the hygienists and/or assistants who should be calm, personable and attentive. Patient retention depends on these so-called “soft skills,” which require ongoing attention and polishing. 

Of course the linchpin is the dentist. To help build a favorable impression, dentists must take time to talk to the patient – without feeling like they’re busting the schedule – and start the valuable relationship-building process.

Ten to 14 minutes simply talking with the patient is what it takes, according to dental consultant and working dentist Dr. Rhonda Savage.  

“During the exam time,” Dr. Savage says, “the doctor should focus on getting to know the patient. This means more than a cursory  ‘Hi, how are you? I'm Dr. So-and-so. . . let's take a look. Are you having any problems?’ It's about connecting, which means you establish a relationship based on common ground.”

She advises nurturing that connection: “Before you put your hands into the new patient's mouth, connect with him or her three times. When the patient returns on a very regular basis, reconnect once. For patients that come in for recalls, reconnect twice before beginning treatment. Do this every time, for every patient.”

Finding connection, building rapport starts with using the patient’s name and some simple questions. Usually one question leads to another and a common bond is found, and some questions seem obvious: where do you live, do you have children, what do you do for a living. But there are others that can yield additional insights for your practice, if you’re listening carefully:

  • I see you were referred by John Doe. He’s a great guy and has been a patient of mine for 10 years. How did you two meet?
  • Are there any questions I can answer about your visit today?

There is no underestimating the importance of connecting with new patients through warmth and credibility, Dr. Savage says. Without it, “patients will not trust their care to you.”

In the end, dentists and their new patients hope they have found a “dental home.” It’s no accident when it happens.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.
Photo: Pop Paul-Catalin /