Patient Care! It’s what every doctor strives to achieve. It’s what every patient desires. Staff in every hospital, clinic and private office all want to provide the best patient care possible. This is the beginning notion for all these individuals. Then, reality gets in the way, and patient care is delivered at a level lower than anyone would like to admit. Patient care could boil down to the old phrase: “Happiness is when Reality meets or exceeds Expectations”. I do not believe patient’s expectations are too high. I do believe reality does fall short of what it should be. So, how do we improve Patient Care so that everyone, patients and health care staff, feels good about the process and the end result? If we don’t ask the question, we will not have an answer. How do we make patients feel special and not “like a number”?
Twenty years of doing dentistry has taught me that there are certain fundamental elements that make patients feel good about their dental visit, and I refer to them as
“The Big 10 Elements of Patient Satisfaction”:
- Patient understanding of their dental treatment (communication during exam)
- Patient awareness of the cost for dental treatment in advance
- Promptness of patient being seated on time for their appointment
- Dental appointment performed in predicted amount of time
- Patient comfort during their treatment
- Appointment confirmation call in advance of dental appointment
- Follow-up call by staff or doctor to check on patient after dental care
- Patient acknowledgement upon entering reception area
- Listening to patient needs carefully to help patient in any way possible
- Proper filing of insurance and billing.
Any one of these areas are potential “hot spots” for patients. Even if an office delivers most of these elements does not mean the patient is satisfied. An anxious patient that feels any pain during an appointment may never return to that office or have the courage to receive dental care for years. A patient that is a stickler about time and waits in the reception area for 20 minutes may get up and leave and never return. Thus, it is important for the care-provider to achieve all aspects of “The Big 10” for every patient to achieve an “A+” result. Any less than all of these elements and the outcome could fall to a “C” or lower.
Why do dental offices fall short of delivering all of “The Big 10” elements of patient care? There are countless reasons. Several examples are as follows: (a) your appointment is running 20- 30 minutes late because the two or three patients prior to your appointment were late getting to the office or perhaps the dental procedure on a patient before you ends up more complex than anticipated and delays the schedule; (b) your treatment becomes more complex than originally planned, requires more treatment, and costs more than anticipated. Let’s stay with just these two examples. Anything that is carefully planned out can change. Notably, this will affect our premise that Happiness is when Reality meets expectations. So, what can the dental office and staff do to maximize the patient’s satisfaction relative to changes like these? If there is a delay in the schedule, it is ideal for the dental office to contact you and let you know the office is running behind, which “resets” your expectations and allows you a buffer to relax about striving to be on time (only later to find out there is a wait). The dentist and assisting staff should be aware of your time constraints and any commitments after your dental appointment to adjust care to fit your schedule. If treatment changes in the dental chair, it is always polite and respectful to stop the procedure and make you aware of this fact and have a front office person inform you of any changes in cost and get your approval before continuing on with treatment. These examples clearly reflect fundamental respect for the patient and good communication. These are key elements to achieve patient satisfaction.
Mathematically, there are three elements that broadly provide the basis for successful dental patient care – Office Environment, Dental Staff and Dental Care. Any one of these three elements can be rated by the patient to be: “positive”, “negative” or “neutral”. If a dental office environment is warm and friendly it would receive a “positive” rating. If the Dental Staff calls before your appointment with an upbeat personal message and the dental assistant gets you a blanket because your cold and the doctor takes time to explain the necessary details that make you confident about that days treatment, they would receive a “positive” rating. If the treatment goes smoothly and the anesthesia and subsequent treatment is comfortable, the best to hope for here would be “neutral”. After all, patients typically don’t really find dental treatment positive; we just don’t want them to find treatment negative. The mathematics of dental care following this summary would be “positive”, “positive”, “neutral” and the overall rating would be “positive”. The mathematical formula for patient satisfaction is a gross weighted average and is based upon “The Big 10” individual elements of patient satisfaction previously discussed. If the entire dental care team shares an understanding of how important these factors are and how to implement them on a patient to patient basis day after day, then the patient wins by being satisfied and leaves the dental office with a positive outlook regarding their dental experience.