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What Dental Patients Want … & Care About

What do patients want in a dentist? Is it rocket science? Not at all. But are you hitting all the marks when it comes to giving the quality patients you want what they want? Ten years ago, I wrote a blog about what dental patients want, and here’s the updated news: people are pretty consistent. Tendencies are tough to change, and what dental patients want today hasn’t really changed much from what dental patients wanted 10 years ago.

It’s what you can give them that’s changed 10 years later.

When I wrote the article back then, I asked a simple question: What do YOU want when choosing a service?

And we all know the answer. Great customer service. Quality service. Convenient service. Patients want the same things. They want to know their business is appreciated, and they want to know their options.

Think of the services you use today and how frustrated you get when a business doesn’t make it easy for you. I’ve been building a new house over the past year and the number of choices, decisions, companies, services, professionals, people, and items I’ve had to select, reject, approve, remove, buy, return, re-order, and replace has been crazy. The companies that made my life easy have my full appreciation. Those that made me feel like their number one customer got my loyalty. Because the companies that made it hard to get things done – or didn’t appreciate the investment of time or money I was making – really made me peeved.

You are the same. Patients are the same. We all want our expectations met.

So, then, here’s what patients want:

  • Convenience
  • Value for money
  • Appreciation
  • Kindness

There are a few reasons that patients are lapsing right now – no-shows and cancelations have become a real issue for many dental offices. The pandemic changed mindset on one hand, and on the other, the industry is forecasted to grow exponentially over the next few years, with one of the reasons behind the growth being that more people are aware of the link between oral health and overall health. Our clients are playing a great part in increasing that understanding with their strategic decision to choose marketing formats that include educational content. That strategy pays off in many ways, elevating the practice brand reputation, improving practice awareness as an authority in the field, and also in attracting a lot more new patients to the office.

By way of example, Patient NEWS®’ client production is 25% ahead of industry average – and January’s results were a whopping 11% higher in 2023 than in 2022. The year has started off with a bang.

CONVENIENCE:

  • Appointments within 48 hours of calling
  • No wait times
  • Shorter appointment times (within reason) or one-stop visits (are you referring out treatment you could do in-house?)
  • Membership plans or insurance processing
  • Ease of booking – answer the phone live!

50% of new patients are lost because the phone wasn’t answered live. This is a key metric every dental office manager should have eyes on for 2023. It’s amazing how impactful this ONE KPI can be to practice performance.

Value for money – and how that links to EDUCATION:

  • Many patients “think” they’re healthy. They need to know that gum disease is a silent disease, so they prioritize their oral health … that leads to treatment acceptance.
  • Patients want to know their options. I don’t know how many times we’ve heard a new client say they were peeved when an active patient arrived for recall having had an elective procedure at another practice because the patient “didn’t know they offered the service.” How frustrating is that?
  • The primary dental decision-maker wants quality information to make good decisions for their families. Take a content marketing approach to new-patient generation and you will win!
  • Share with patients all the things your practice does to invest and benefit patients – simple things can become brand differentiators!

APPRECIATION:

Ten years ago, when I wrote this blog, almost all of our clients mailed a dedicated patient newsletter quarterly. Mailed. A. Patient. Newsletter. To patient homes.

Today, our clients’ focus on direct mail for new patients, websites, SEO, paid media, and patient communications has very much shifted to automation. Appointment reminders, recall reminders, reactivations, email newsletters, and review generation. Email and text. Those are all great and important aspects of running a successful dental practice, but, in my opinion, a mailed practice newsletter to patient homes really stands out – and more than ever in 2023.

Did you know that our clients who also incorporate a mailed patient newsletter 3-4 times per year (in addition to direct mail and SEO – not in place of) are the clients with the highest production results? Because a mailed patient newsletter that hits doorsteps:

  • Shows your patients you care
  • Educates patients about your elective services
  • Strengthens your patient relationships and improves satisfaction
  • Increases the likelihood that patients will refer and review
  • Increases retention and production!

The average active dental patient contributes around $1,000 to topline revenue annually. So, if a quarterly patient newsletter was a $10,000 investment for your practice, and that campaign pulled in a dozen lapsing patients per quarter (the average practice has around 500 patients lapsing right now so I’m being conservative), and any of those patients then also referred a friend or family member, you would very quickly have a very strong ROI. Plus, think about the elective services you want to get patients to accept. A patient newsletter can pre-educate and motivate interest in the services you offer.

Besides a moment in the chair with you – or with your treatment coordinator in the office – how else do you think your patients will find out what options they have for their smile? Not with your appointment reminder.

The front desk team is probably frustrated with patients always asking about insurance. But effectively handling these inquiries goes hand in hand with excellent customer service and increasing new-patient appointments. This is one of the most important factors for patients when choosing a dental practice. Therefore, if new patients are your goal, this is an area you absolutely must build a strategy around.

Can you:

  • Promote that you accept most insurance plans, even if you aren’t “in plan”?
  • Offer your own in-house membership plan? We’ve found that these patients are often 2X as valuable as non-insured patients (although not consistently higher value than overall new patients in some insurances).
  • Make things easier for patients and process claims for them?
  • Offer to help patients understand their insurance coverage and get the most from their benefits?
  • Offer additional and alternative payment options?

No matter how your office handles insurance, we don’t want to answer, “Do you accept my insurance?” with a “yes” or “no.”  Here are a couple of quick script tips for your team:

Even if your practice never accepts assignment of benefits, a simple “no” without explanation will lose patients unnecessarily. If you do accept assignment, a “yes” can be misleading without determining what the patient is really asking, which could be one of three entirely different questions:

  • “Are you a participating provider?”
  • “Will you accept whatever my insurance company pays as full payment and not charge me the difference? Or will you charge me the difference?”
  • “I think I have a certain plan, but who knows what it really is?”

Once you get a better understanding of the above, you will still need to book the appointment to determine diagnosis and identify coverage … always be understanding … “Insurance coverage seems to become more confusing as time goes by. At your appointment, we’ll help you determine the coverage you can expect, and we’ll fill out and file your forms for you. We always provide a quote in advance and can get pre-approval for you. We believe our patients should be able to concentrate on their dental health without worrying about confusing paperwork.”

Do not assume that their plan cannot be used in your office. Many patients can go out of their network, be your patient, and still receive some benefits. Give such good service that patients can’t help but tell others about you.

Some dental offices have excellent scripting for their front office teams around the membership program – and have it priced significantly less than what patients will pay for another insurance … “You’re currently paying $500/year for your coverage with XYZ, but with our membership program, you’ll get ABC for only $325/year and we make sure you get the treatments you need on our plan.” It gives the team that answers your phone something to work with to overcome objections.

Ten years ago, I wrote … People will spend to lose weight, look younger, be healthier, and save their lives … That hasn’t changed and that’s your big in. You just need to communicate to patients what you’ve got and how that benefits THEM.

Kindness? Yes, of course, you are kind and caring.

But not everyone on every team is caring and kind. We’ve listened to enough patient phone calls and spoken with enough dental team members and dentists to know that not everyone is as kind as they could be all the time. It’s pretty difficult to always remember to be kind when you’re busy with 17 different things coming at you. Those that are always kind are very special people. But the word “kindness” might not exactly be what I’m describing. When it comes to patients wanting kindness, it can mean being listened to, offering a back-and-forth relationship of trust, and repeating what a patient says in your words so they feel heard. Taking a beat. When you are open to listening, patients will feel the difference between your practice and other providers. They’ll automatically feel better and more appreciated.

Our dental marketing campaigns, from direct mail newsletters to patient newsletters to websites to automated communications, ensure that you clearly communicate your value prop to new and existing patients, alleviate concerns and overcome obstacles, make financial and insurance aspects clear, and help equip your teams to effectively handle inquiries with a more educated patient.

And today, we have more than just great dental marketing. Today, we have Practice ZEBRA®, which means we can show you patient behavior, what they’re spending, where they live, where the low-hanging opportunities lie, and where more “like” audiences reside to help you attract more quality patients.

Ultimately, you need to offer people what they want, not what they need. Content marketing helps patients get to know you better and come to ‘want’ what you have to offer.

For more information on content strategy, team training, and related scripting, please call your Account Manager. They’re available for unlimited free advice, from Monday to Friday, 9am – 5:30pm EST.

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