Rules of engagement

marketingManaging director of Milkshake Dental Marketing, Barbara Hutchinson, makes sense of what can be a marketing minefield.

Marketing to new and current patients is now a crucial part of running a dental practice in today’s increasingly competitive environment. Gone are the days when practitioners could simply walk into a practice, throw open the doors and welcome a grateful flood of new patients.


Patient communication is a vital discipline for today’s dentists and their teams to understand. The focus of GDC and CQC guidelines, both of which demand transparency of information, visible pricing and a demonstration that practitioners are acting in the patient’s best interests, are a consequence of the wider healthcare agenda and a desire for alignment across the different healthcare sectors.

The onus is on the practice to demonstrate that patient communication is effective, that they are obtaining valid consent and they are, where appropriate, acting on patient feedback.

Effective communication pervades every aspect of the patient journey and includes both verbal and non-verbal categories.

Using the pointers below will help to improve communication skills:

  • Introduce yourself and all other members of the clinical team
  • Communicate in a way that can be understood
  • Explain all the treatment options, including the consequences of not treating and provide an opportunity for the patient to ask questions
  • Don’t use professional jargon
  • Give the patient a written treatment plan including an indication of cost
  • Practices must also display a simple price list in reception, in your practice brochure and on your website.

Most importantly, you must document all communication including conversations and subsequent actions in order to demonstrate that a patient has given valid consent for treatment.


Communication has come a long way in the last decade and, the growth in digital and electronic communication has changed the landscape beyond all recognition and in a multi-channel, multi-platform world, there are many different aspects of communication that must now be considered.

Websites are now the number-one way of ensuring your practice is visible to potential and existing patients and over 80% of practices have a website in one form or another. But simply having a website is no longer enough – to ensure your website performs to expectations, it needs to be loved and cared for.

There are some specific rules that need to observed in order to keep your online presence the right side of the regulations and your website must include the following policies. Most are quite standard and should be available from your web designer:

  • Privacy policy
  • Cookie policy
  • FTA/cancellation policy
  • Confidentiality policy – use of patient data and disclosure
  • Complaints procedure.

In addition, your website must have details of:

  • The names, qualifications and place of qualification of each member of the clinical team
  • Details of disabled access
  • Price list
  • Full contact details and out-of-hours/emergency care
  • ‘Last updated’ button.


The most dynamic form of online communication is social media, which is an area being increasingly embraced by a significant proportion of the profession. These practices have recognised the influential role of social media and the part it can play in driving engagement with local communities.

Word-of-mouth referral has always been the most important way of practices finding new patients. Software of Excellence studies show that referral from existing patients is the most popular form of acquiring new patients for 94% of UK practices. However, friends and family now chat online as well as face-to-face, to such an extent that social media has now become an extension of word of mouth.

Such recommendation is now a powerful force, not only for personal acquaintances, but also in terms of how a website is ranked. Patient communication is a complex subject, made more so by the multitude of channels now available for us to exploit.

To make the most of this opportunity, dentists must make sure they follow all the rules, keep in regular contact via targeted patient communication and make full use of new media to engage with patients and prospects.

Milkshake Dental Marketing are partners in the DPAS Dental Plans Business Bites programme and their services are available to DPAS client practices. For more information visit, call 01747 870910 or email [email protected].

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