The ideal patient journey in 2020
Richard Scarborough and Ash Parmar discuss what the ideal patient journey looks like and how you can create it.
Providing an exceptional patient journey is paramount to running a successful dental practice.
Not only will it lead to happy, satisfied patients who will remain loyal and become a source of referrals, it will help to increase uptake of treatment.
To find out more about how to provide the ideal patient journey possible, I spoke to Ash Parmar, cosmetic dentist at Smile Design By Ash. He has created a unique experience in his practice and has a 90% acceptance rate for treatment.
Richard: You have a very comprehensive patient journey. Can you walk us through what happens in your practice?
Ash: When a patient arrives, our treatment coordinator (TCO) greets them by their name and with a smile and handshake. They give the patient a nice tour of the practice. People make buying decisions within the first three seconds of meeting someone, so this stage is very important.
From there they go to one of our consultation rooms. Here they can have a nice tea or coffee and we take their medical history. The first step is to start building a relationship. We have a detailed discussion of why they’re here and how we can help them. We use eight open-ended questions, which get the patient thinking deeper using the right side of the brain (the emotional side).
Dedicating a space for consultations is vital. It allows the patient to speak freely and means that you aren’t wasting surgery space. If you have anxious patients it also works well. Taking them immediately into the treatment room can sometimes have a detrimental effect on their mindset.
Our TCO will take photos of the patient’s mouth and review them together. Then they introduce a dentist to the patient and help decide what treatment options may be suitable.
The TCO will then collect the fee for the comprehensive dental assessment. It takes two hours and can include a panoral X-ray, digital photographs, 3D scanning, bitewing X-rays, periapical X-rays (as required), and the use of a 25-page clinical examination document! For simpler cases, a more routine dental examination is required.
The gold standard
For the more complex cases, we then invite them to come back in a week. If someone else is paying for the treatment they are invited to come along too. They are given a report, which is bound and professional-looking. It also includes all the options, fee estimates, case studies and photographs. The dentist will present the main problems and solutions using a custom-created Powerpoint presentation so that the patient understands fully. The treatment fee is presented, the TCO then makes the financial arrangements and schedules any necessary appointments.
By being this thorough, we find that it builds up a lot of trust in us as dentists. If they like and trust you, they will go ahead with treatment. With this approach we have found that we have a 90% case acceptance rate for treatments of anything between £5,000 and £20,000.
In my opinion, this is the gold standard of a new patient journey.
Building your practice
Richard: It certainly is very thorough. What would you say to dentists who might think this sounds good, but that they wouldn’t have time to do it in their practice?
Ash: Firstly, you need to train your senior staff members on the front desk in verbal skills and communication to a very high level. I would recommend Laura Horton for this kind of training.
Secondly, from a financial point of view, work out your hourly rate. Then figure out what you can justify doing and what can be delegated to the team. One of those things could be patient photographs. There’s no reason you can’t train your team on how to take good photos.
Thirdly, consider ways of calling patients back in and spending longer with them. If you don’t have time to go through everything; for example if a patient tells you they’re unsatisfied with the colour of their teeth. Explain to them that you need to go through things in more detail. Invite them back in for a complimentary 45-minute appointment. Then when they come back, you will have time to go through mock-ups and photos, they will feel listened to and valued, and be more likely to go ahead with treatment.
Providing the ideal patient journey
Richard: Bearing that in mind, what are the key things you think dentists need to be doing in 2020 to provide the ideal patient journey possible?
Ash: One thing is to understand the importance of psychology of communication and different personality types – such as the dominance, influence, steadiness, compliance, (DISC) profile system. Knowing more about this will allow you to learn how to talk with different people and how much time to spend with them.
Understand that people buy emotionally. So, develop a way of speaking to patients and explaining their options in a way that appeals to their emotional side.
Learn more about ethical selling. No one likes to use the word selling, but we are all in the process of sales so, if you haven’t already, take a course on ethical selling so you can improve your technique without any qualms.
Dentists are always so busy working in the business rather than on it – try and involve your team more. Have team meetings and role play scenarios like new patient enquiries; having excellent phone skills is the key.
Patient finance is a huge thing for private practices, now and going forwards. Nowadays people tend to use financing for anything that is moderately expensive, so if you’re not offering finance it should be something you seriously consider because it improves your cashflow and it helps make treatment affordable for patients. If they want the treatment and they like you, but they don’t have the funds for it, they will go ahead if you organise financing for them.
Paying for treatment
Richard: Picking up on your last point, what is your approach to finance being part of the ideal patient journey?
Ash: We talk about money early on, once we have asked our eight open-ended questions and built up some rapport.
When you go to an estate agent, car showroom or jewellers, one of the first questions they will ask you is ‘what’s your budget?’. The approach should be no different in dentistry.
Dentists often don’t want to talk about money. But you need to be organised and structured in how you bring it up and do it early on. Not straightaway but at the right point in the process.
If a patient turns up with loose dentures, one of the questions they will be thinking about is ‘how much will it cost?’, so why not address that.
Richard: Thank you Ash, that’s very interesting. One final thing, what is your personal mindset when it comes to providing an exceptional patient journey?
Ash: I want to try and make the new patient experience unique and special. All the small details matter – the professionalism and friendliness of the staff, the spa-like atmosphere of Smile Design By Ash, the beautiful standard of our washrooms, the unique range of special teas and coffees we offer, etc.
Think of a time you went to a really nice or hotel or restaurant. Consider what you really liked about the experience and then try to bring that into the dental practice.
And just be yourself, be human, and don’t rush – spend time building a relationship with your patients.
My personal philosophy is do your best wherever you can for the patient.
Richard: That’s great, thank you for sharing your ideal patient journey and your advice for others.