When we are done prepping a crown, we “take” an impression. The tooth is already there, and we are merely making a working copy of it. When we first meet a new person, however, we say we “make” an impression. We are creating their experience from nothing but what we put into it.
Arguably, there is no more important dental appointment than the new patient appointment. The impression made on that first visit is critical to whether the patient will continue your relationship, trust you, feel comfortable enough to pursue treatment, and follow up with their commitments.
Here is a quick list of key elements to ensure your new patient becomes a long-term patient.
1. Build rapport BEFORE the appointment.
Whether by phone, messaging, or teledentistry conference, contact your patient a few days before their appointment to get to know them, ask questions, gather a few personal details, and help them feel they chose the right office. It’s fine for a team member to do this, but it’s even more impactful when it’s the dentist themselves.
2. Send forms and gather information early.
No one likes to sit in the waiting room filling out forms. Send them digitally and have as much of it as possible out of the way.
3. Block some appointment times for new patients only.
Put new patient block outs on the schedule so there are always available times without making the patient wait for weeks. Don’t release the time for treatment scheduling until 3 days out if they aren’t filled.
4. Be on time.
Book new patients first thing in the morning or right after lunch when you know you won’t be running behind.
5. Greet the patient like royalty.
That first, in-person impression is crucial. Have the team member checking them in stand up, greet them warmly, and let them know what to expect. Finish paperwork and maybe give them a tour around the office.
6. Hand off to clinical team for exam.
Introduce the patient to the clinical team member who will be gathering records.
7. Talk before taking records.
All patients have expectations and concerns. Listening to what they prioritize and asking good questions builds trust and rapport. Help them feel comfortable.
8. Records gathering.
Some offices bring new patients in through hygiene, others through operative. Either way, the new patient should receive a thorough set of appropriate radiographs and a visual hard and soft tissue exam prior to the dentist coming in the operatory. Areas of concern should be shown to the patient by intraoral camera and still images should be left on the screen.
9. Hand off to the doctor.
Once records are taken, the dentist should be introduced along with sharing of any common interests or personal details that would help build rapport. For example, “Mrs. Jones’ son plays baseball on the team you sponsor!” Make friends first.
10. Repeat concerns.
The clinical team member should give a synopsis of their findings. This will help ensure trust in the doctor’s exam when findings are confirmed.
11. Thorough exam.
Dentist should do hard tissue screening for decay, cracks, and wear facets, soft tissue exam including probing depths, oral cancer screening including palpation of the lymph nodes and the sides of the tongue, TMJ evaluation including palpation of the joints, and cosmetic evaluation if the patient desires. Make it the most complete exam they have ever had.
12. Show, don’t just tell.
An intraoral camera should be used so areas of concern can be seen with the patient’s own eyes. They believe it when they see it.
13. Don’t overload.
When there are multiple treatment paths, establish the patient’s priorities before planning. A quick explanation of fixed vs removable vs implants on the front end will let you know patient’s expectations.
14. Present the treatment plan in phases.
“First we need to do this, then we need to do this.”
15. Don’t talk exact costs.
You can say something is more or less of an investment; but leave the exact prices to the treatment coordinator.
16. Get them excited.
People make big investments only when they are emotionally motivated. Paint a picture of how great their new smile will be!
17. Hand off to Treatment Coordinator.
“Awesome! Sounds like we have a plan! Let me introduce you to Jane who will go over the financial part of everything.”
18. Payment arrangements.
Insurance matters and payment plans are made. Third party financial arrangements should be offered if appropriate. Don’t finance in house! You aren’t a bank.
19. Make appointments.
Start treatment as soon as possible to maintain the patient’s forward momentum. If you wait, they may second guess things. Block out spots on the schedule each week ahead of time for big cases or they will become filled with random little cases.
20. Follow up.
Send a card, give a gift, or make a call. Just make sure the patient feels appreciated and welcome.
While every office has their own unique protocol for new patients, adhering to the concepts listed above will create the foundation for a long and productive relationship. Building rapport, trust, and connection are crucial to case acceptance and patient compliance. You have to “make” a great first impression.