Every dental practitioner wants to provide the perfect patient experience. But, it can be hard to know what the key indicators for that experience are.
That’s why we decided to take a deep dive on how to create that perfect patient experience for dental practices. In this blog, we help you identify key indicators that your patients are having a positive experience. This will help you strategize as you create amazing experiences for your patients.
Let’s dive in!
The Importance of the Dental Patient Experience
First, let’s talk briefly about why the patient experience is so important.
Of course, the most important function of a dental practice is providing successful oral healthcare outcomes. However, more and more, patients also value a great experience. They want their dental practice to engage with them, and to value their time!
There are several elements to consider if you’re trying to achieve the perfect patient experience:
- Convenience. Make it straightforward for patients to confirm appointments, arrive on time, follow pre- and post-appointment instructions, etc.
- Engagement. Find the right messaging cadence, so that you are not contacting your patients too much or too little. This will definitely look different depending on what time of procedure the patient requires at their appointment.
- Empathy. Patients want to feel valued and cared for by their healthcare providers. Dentists and dental staff are no exception! Providing an empathetic, friendly atmosphere is a key element of the patient experience.
Let’s look at the key indicators that your patient experience strategy is succeeding!
Last Minute Cancellations & No-Shows
As obvious as it may sound, last-minute cancellations and no-shows are an indication that your patient experience isn’t perfect. Your dental practice’s team will also experience a lot of frustration over last-minute cancellations and no-shows.
What makes very few last-minute cancellations or no-shows such a good key indicator for patient experience? It shows your team set your patients up for success. Your team has made it easy for them to get to your practice. What can this look like?
- Messaging comes to the patient via their preferred medium, such as text or email
- Patient is contacted at the right frequency. For example, the practice might send a confirmation message as well as a reminder in the days leading up to the appointment
- Attached to the messaging is the practice’s address, as well as a Google Maps link to the address
- Messaging might also include transit and parking information
By strategically using reminders, you can move closer to that perfect patient experience your dental practice is moving towards!
It also shows that your practice has made your patients feel like they are partners in their oral health. Whatever messaging or educational materials you are providing them with, your patients are inspired to participate.
Let’s look a little more closely at some of this messaging. One of the pre-appointment messages that you send your patientsis to ask for confirmation that they are attending the appointment.
There are several reasons the confirmation message is so important:
- It increases the likelihood that patients will arrive, and on time
- Increases patient satisfaction because it supports the patient in doing just that
- It allows staff to plan ahead
For example, if a patient has not confirmed, that will let staff know that they are more likely to not arrive. They can warn the dentist, who can maybe see another patient a little sooner and not get behind. This improves the patient experience overall, since more patients are seen more promptly.
Digital confirmation over text or email are most patients’ preference. Intiveo has had the opportunity to hear from a number of dental practices about how well their patients repond to confirmations of this kind. For example, Graft Periodontics gained an 80% confirmation rate, while Blue Water Dental & Lighthouse Dental saw their confirmation rate improve to 92-100%.
Patient preparedness is truly a key indicator in the patient experience. If your patient comes to the appointment prepared, having followed any pre-appointment instructions, that indicates that they are invested. And – it means that your staff gave them the tools to come prepared in the first place.
Providing your patients with pre- and post-appointment instructions that they can refer back to is a great strategy to ensure patient preparedness. Many practices will choose to send instructions home with patients on paper. While this method may feel tried and true, it can result it lost or damaged instructions, which makes it challenging for the patient to come prepared.
In the digital age, dental practices will often email or text instructions, which increases the accessibility for your patients because the instructions are always available in their phones or laptops. This accessibility gives your patients the tools to come prepared, contributing to their overall experience at your practice.
An important contributing factor to preparedness for post-appointment instructions is the in-person conversation that the dentist or another staff member has with the patient. Not only will the patient appreciate the time taken to convey the instructions, but hearing them once before receiving them by text or email will help them remember.
Patient forms are often frustrating for patients and staff members alike. Chances are if patients are not filling out forms or are finding the process of filling them out frustrating, they’re not having a positive – let alone perfect – patient experience.
If patients have to fill out forms by hand, they usually have to come to the appointment early. This can be frustrating for the patient, because they have to take more time out of their day to come to the appointment. Often, if patients are late for filling out their forms, or it takes them a while to fill them out, it eats into the appointment time. This can contribute to the patients’ frustration, because they get less time with their care provider. It’s frustrating for staff because it can often have a cascading effect and make the ensuing appointments late.
Another factor for staff is that they have to transfer the hand-written form into the computer. This can be time-consuming. It can also be next to impossible if the handwriting is challenging for the staff to read. Frustrated staff are then less emotionally resourced to be present and attentive to patients.
Once again, patients’ experience improves when they have the right tools. This is where digital forms play a key role in a positive patient experience at the dental practice. Digital forms can have several positive effects, including:
- Valuing patients’ time. If digital forms are attached and sent to the patient before an appointment, the patient can fill them out on their own time, in the comfort of their own home. They don’t have to come early for their appointment.
- Accessible to the patients. Digital forms are hard to lose! Forms that are attached to a text or email make it easy for the patient to find the form to fill it out at any time – even if it’s been a busy day and they can fill them out on the bus on the way to the appointment.
- Improves experience for the dental practice team. When patients arrive at the practice having already filled out their forms, the makes space in the dental team’s workday. It increases efficiency and decreases frustration for the staff, allowing them to be more emotionally resourced for patients who are at the practice.
Direct Feedback from Patients
Of course, the best way to if you’re successful is when your patients tell you. If a patient tells the team at the dental practice, “this patient experience is perfect”, then clearly you’re doing it right!
This underlines the importance of patient feedback. Asking for a patient’s feedback makes them feel valued. It demonstrates that your practice cares about how they feel when they’re at your practice. This is where a feedback survey comes in!
Sending a feedback survey at the conclusion of their appointment(s) serves two purposes:
- It gives the patient a chance to give feedback on their own time. If you offer the feedback survey right after their appointment, when their experience is fresh, you’ll get a very truthful response. It can be challenging for some people to give really frank feedback in person (both positive and constructive), so giving the patient the option not to do it in person makes this more accessible for patients.
- It gives the dental practice team the resources to improve or maintain the patient experience. If your practice is getting the same constructive feedback repeatedly, then your staff will be able to hone in on that area of improvement. The same goes for positive feedback! If your patients really love something about your practice, then you know where you’re succeeding as a practice
Creating a culture of feedback at your practice is essential for maintaining or improving your patient experience.
On the Way to the Perfect Patient Experience
Keeping tabs on these key indicators and others will tell you if you’re moving towards a perfect patient experience at your dental practice. Perfection is probably unattainable – but maintaining and improving wherever you can will help your patients feel valued and respected.
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