Difficult circumstances provide us with an opportunity to show our character. Understanding your patient’s concerns and responding with compassion will show them that you are an empathetic healthcare provider. This will serve your patients well, and can also be a benefit to your practice. Since so much of the value of a dental practice is based in goodwill, how you modify your approach in both providing treatment and in your communication will bolster the goodwill you have already built.
Of course, there is a financial “value” of a dental practice that is quantified when you place your dental office for sale, but goodwill is not just about money. It’s about the role you play in your community and, more specifically, in the service you provide to your patients. How will they see you in a time of uncertainty? Hopefully you are viewed as a steady resource providing reliable information and needed care.
Dr. Jessica Meeske, vice chair of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention, said, “My advice is not to practice in fear . . . patients need dental care and we have the responsibility and privilege to provide it.” Your patients have enough concern in other aspects of their lives – they don’t need concern about dental care added to it. You and your office staff can help alleviate some of their fear by offering compassionate care.
What is Compassionate Care
Most simply, it can be providing the treatment that is needed in the safest way possible.
This might mean a new reliance on technology like teledentistry or other electronic patient communications. If a patient’s concern can be resolved without them having to come into the office, then perhaps that is how it should be addressed. Let them know this is for their safety. Plus, it will save your staff time, reserve your office’s resources by not having to perform sterilization measures after their appointment, which will in turn save you money.
In the past, your dental office could rely on traditional “best practices” as a way to provide care. Those “best practices” are now evolving and are not yet determined entirely, so now is a good time to find out what your patients want and need. Consider how hospitals conduct surveys in order to give patients a positive experience, provide a sense of satisfaction, and give the feeling that they come first. They compete to promote the idea of patient-centered care. Use this time to identify, collect, evaluate, and implement information from your patients about their dental health care. This information will be your best guide. Most likely, you will see a pivot toward patient-centered outcomes like consistency of care, interaction with staff, and, of course, infection control.
When it comes to infection control, many patients will be paying closer attention (although perhaps not always with an accurate understanding of what is happening). Be prepared to discuss with them what you are doing and why. Keep your practices evidence-based and prioritize your team members that function as infection control coordinators. While your patients will want the standard of dental care to which they are accustomed, they will also expect to see a heightened level of sterilization procedures.
Emphasize Empathy in Patient Communication
Your first point of contact with any patient, now or in the past, is through some kind of marketing communication. From the sign on your building to sponsoring a local sports team to social media posts, these are all forms of marketing that establish your identity (or brand) in the minds of members of your community. It communicates what your office is—who you are—and what role you intend to play.
The goodwill that factors so heavily in the valuation of your practice when you place your dental office for sale will be affected by how you pivot during 2020. Be prepared to engage with patients and fully answer their questions. Some will have newly heightened fears or concerns. While you may have knowledge and experience with the importance of sterilization, be aware that what may seem routine for you and your team (e.g. infection control, treatment protocols, PPE, etc) may be a significant point of concern for them.
- Avoid appearing too casual about topics you routinely engage with as part-of-the-job.
- Actively listen to their stated opinions, concerns, or fears. Restate them back to your patients to show you’ve heard and understand them. This shows that you’re taking their concerns seriously and working to help alleviate them.
- Reframe their concerns and fears by sharing your professional insight and your team’s vigilance to address their issues.
- Stay positive without being cliche or downplaying their relevant questions or concerns.
It’s always important to be empathetic with your patients, but how that will be demonstrated now needs to be somewhat different from the past. Your patients may have trepidation about coming to your office that goes beyond the typical fear of going to the dentist. Use your patient outreach and time with them to find out what they are worried about and adjust your communication to address those worries.
Also, reconsider your marketing goals. Marketing is simply about communicating a message. Take what you know about your patients and what is on their mind, and implement that into your messaging. Then, consider how you can get that message across using your marketing platforms. A short statement can be used in outdoor advertising or on short-form social media like Twitter. Longer, more detailed messages can be used on Facebook, in local news articles, or other forms of advertising that have been effective for you.
Given that this message needs to be developed in response to your patient’s particular needs, it may be worthwhile taking time to engage with your patients through social media. It’s a good way to get feedback that will provide valuable information that will guide your messaging.
Do You Need to Adjust Your Brand?
First, do you know what your brand is? If not, now is the time to define it. If so, now is a time to adjust it to fit the circumstances of our time. Your brand includes your name, the name of your practice, and any other terms, designs, symbols, or marks that identifies your dental practice as distinct from all of the others. They are used for recognition and to create and store value in your services and products. In short, in your patients’ (and prospective patients’) minds, who are you?
Once you have figured that out, the next question is whether that is who you want to be. If you have a well-established brand, is it still as effective now as it was six months ago? If not, why?
If you don’t know what your brand is, spend some time making that determination. A simple exercise to guide you is to write down how you would describe your office. What adjectives would you use? What types of emotional descriptors? This will tell you what your brand should be.
For this to be effective — either branding or rebranding — you must be honest with yourself. Your descriptions have to be accurate. If they are, your branding will be effective and you will be seen as reliable. This is an important step in building that goodwill that will be so valuable when it comes time to list your dental office for sale. Inaccurate branding, on the other hand, can create negative goodwill, which is much harder to overcome than no goodwill at all.
Once you have settled on your brand, review your marketing. Does it reflect the image you want to present? Go through anything with your name on it and adjust anything that communicates something at odds with your brand. Keep your voice consistent across all platforms. Look for ways to interact with your patients and community in ways that reinforce your brand identity. This can be as simple as the types of things you share on social media or something larger such as providing charitable donations or services in your community.
Show Patients You are Willing to Help Them Find Financial Solutions
As you are likely aware, many have experienced some kind of financial setback in the last few months, including unemployment and the loss of insurance coverage. This will be a major concern to some of your patients. It’s important that you and your office staff be sensitive to this concern and are prepared to provide helpful solutions. Some things you can do include:
- Think about incentives you can offer that will offset financial worries. Go beyond the usual promotions you may have offered in the past. You need to protect your income, of course, to keep you and your staff employed. However, you may need to give your patients a reason to schedule their dental work.
- Consider offering third-party financing. You can promote options that lessen your patients long-term burden (such as high interest). Some third-party finance companies might have adjusted payback periods and interest requirements. Do your research, partner with those who do, and guide your patients to use them if necessary.
- Offer in-house financing and membership plans. Small, measured payments can help patients get the treatment they need or desire without overwhelming their available cash-flow.
These financial solutions also take into consideration that your practice has perhaps operated at a loss for a time during the pandemic. Your willingness to partner with your patients with viable financing options can be a win-win that can build and renew dental patient relationships long term.
Make it Easy for Patients to Come in for Treatment
In addition to financial concerns, patients may not have as much flexibility in their schedules as they once had. Some will be unable or unwilling to take time off work, if they have been furloughed or otherwise lost income. Others may have child care issues that make scheduling dental care difficult. Much of this will be beyond their control. Whatever their reason, providing them with more options to come in and get the treatment they need will be appreciated, and you may end up scheduling more appointments with these methods.
When patients do come into your office, they’ll not want to be in a busy waiting room with several other patients. Depending on your state, this may not be an option. However, be sensitive to their concerns and help them feel safe and comfortable while they are in your office.
Some options to consider are:
- Early morning, evening, or even weekend appointments would provide patients more convenient options to schedule.
- Build in a necessary time gap between appointments to limit the number of patients in your reception area and to adequately prep your ops for the next procedure.
- Apply teledentistry for pre-screening or diagnosis. This remote option provides physical distancing and the opportunity to schedule their treatment when it fits their schedule (and yours).
To be certain, all of these things will require thought, planning, and perhaps even revision as you discover what is most effective for you and your patients. In the end, however, the efforts you expend to help your patients feel that you have their health and best interest at heart will be rewarded with their continued loyalty and increased goodwill.
Considering Listing Your Dental Office for Sale? DDSmatch Mid-Atlantic is Here to Help
DDSmatch Mid-Atlantic are dental practice transition specialists focused on assisting dentists in the Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virgina areas. For buyers looking for a dental office for sale, you can view our available practices here. Our specialty is making your dental practice transition as smooth and rewarding as possible. Our benchmarks for success are your unique, individual goals being fulfilled. We are here to work for you. Contact us today.