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How Patients Judge Clinical Skill

Dentists spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on clinical training and continuing education yet patients judge competence by a whole different set of standards.

A 2013 report by 1-800-Dentist surveyed over 500 dental patients and discovered that 70% said online ratings and reviews influenced their choice of dentist. In fact, the report states that patients now say consumer reviews areJUST AS IMPORTANT as a dentist’s professional credentials.

Online reviews are just as important as credentials.

I just wanted that to sit for a moment. That’s where we live.

And it’s not just reviews. When surveyed, patients judge the competence of their dentist by a set of standards completely unrelated to training and education.

Before we go any farther, let’s just be clear. Clinical skill is massively important. This is not an either/or article. This is a both/and article. You must have great clinical skill AND you have to understand patients’ perspective.

With that in mind, here are the top five criteria for assessing clinical competence (from the patient’s point of view):

1. Convenience

Patients say that a dental practice that runs on time and offers extended hours is the number one factor in choosing a new dentist.

When new patients call to schedule an appointment, 74% of them said they expected to be seen “right away.” Although the definition of “right away” is a little vague, I think we can safely say that they expect to have an appointment that week or the following week at the latest.

When a patient finally picks up the phone to call your office and make an appointment, it is top of mind. Telling them you don’t have any openings for three weeks, makes it seem like (a) your mismanaging your schedule or (b) you don’t value new patients.

When it comes down to it, how a pratice manages time is the number one reflection of clinical competency.

PATIENT PERCEPTION: If you run a proficient schedule, you must be a proficient practitioner.

2. Friendliness of Staff

First impressions are everything. I’m sure I could do a little research right now and find a statistic that says people make decisions about your practice within the first 16 seconds of being there. Whether it’s 16 seconds or one minute, the number one influence during that time frame is the friendliness of your staff. They are a direct representation of you.

PATIENT PERCEPTION: If you have a great team, you must be a great dentist.

3. Facility & Technology

Along with staff friendliness, the appearance of the facility are the main factors of the first impression. If the waiting room is outdated and worn, paitents assume you must be an older, outdated dentist. When there’s no new technology, patients speculate. It must be because (a) you don’t care enough to advance your education, (b) you can’t afford it or (c) you’re sailing along until retirment. All three tell them a story about your clinical skill.

Conversely, a remodeled, updated facility communicates intentionality. New technology communicates advancement. All point towards competence.

PATIENT PERCEPTION: If you have a modern facility and advanced technology, you must be an advanced clinician.

4. Reviews

It’s estimated that 60–80% of patients are looking at reviews before deciding on a dental practice. They trust another human being over a business. That’s okay. It’s completely normal. Patients are trying to figure out if (a) you perform quality work and (b) are you trustworthy. Reviews are helping to answer those questions.

Also worth noting: a recent survey found that patients are willing to pay up to 99% more for a service with an “excellent” rating than one with merely a “good” rating. You probably never thought that good reviews would allow you to raise your fees.

PATIENT PERCEPTION: If you have excellent reviews, you must be an excellent doctor.

5. Clear Communication

Last, patients want clear commuincation about costs and insurance.

The 1–800-Dentist survey reported that 90% of patients say “dental work is expensive,” however, 91% said they are more likely to continue patronizing dentists who engage in an honest, upfront conversation about costs. In other words, EVERY patient thinks dentistry is expensive and EVERY patient is more likely to accept treatment from those who communicate clearly.

The solution here is to always communicate up front about costs and insurance benefits. Take time to clarify treatment options — What’s essential and what’s optimal. Make sure your staff can talk about complex insurance plans with simplicity and you’ll gain patients’ trust.

PATIENT PERCEPTION: If you understand dental insurance, you must understand dentistry.

Whether you like it or not, patients have already decided whether or not you’re a good dentist before they ever meet you. The best practices leverage these five factors to gain trust and support clinical competence.

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