Last week, I had to find a chiropractor for my husband, Ross.  I went online to our neighborhood posts and asked for recommendations. My husband (a dentist) asked one of his patients.

His patient highly recommended her doctor – stated that she and her husband see him, and he is “wonderful”.  In the meantime, I received messages about an office near our home.  My husband requested that I call the office that was recommended by his patient first.  After being placed on hold for several minutes, the call was answered by a service. I was informed that someone from the office would return my call.  This was mid-morning.

When the office called me back, I stated that my husband not only had an emergent need (You don’t want a dentist with a bad back) but also needed a doctor who could provide ongoing care. (You know, ongoing revenue, recall.)  Before I could state the emergent reason for the appointment, and that they had been referred, questions about our medical insurance were raised.  Before the appointment would be confirmed, we would need to scan the insurance card and send it to them, so coverage could be verified.  Next, I was informed about their appointment and office policies.  The appointment was made, with a clear understanding of their guidelines.

When I shared this conversation with my husband (whose name is Ross) he said, “Cancel the appointment and call the other office”.

When I called the other office, Bree answered the phone in an unhurried, friendly tone. She engaged me in a conversation about Ross’ emergent need, and his quest for long-term relief.

Then she went on to tell me, “The doctor has a lot of dentists in her practice with similar situations.  She has a lot of experience taking care of dentists”.   I complimented Bree on her telephone etiquette and her pleasant manner to which she replied, “Well I am your first contact with our office, and I want to be sure to make a good impression – one that reflects the quality of our care.”

Bree also explained that the doctor typically works shorter hours on the day of my call, but if I could wait a moment, she would see if the Doctor would be able to stay longer to see Ross. And the doctor stayed later to take care of a patient in discomfort. And they gained a convert.

In our office, our intake call is patient-centric instead of policy-driven.

Is your new patient intake call care driven or policy driven? Are the first questions you ask the caller designed to learn about them and the reason for their call or the explain your office rules?  Are they relationship-based, inspiring patients to seek your care?  Or are they focused on asking questions found on a standard patient information form? Is too much emphasis placed on explaining office protocols and informing patients of the “office rules” prior to their visit?

The patient experience begins the moment they call your practice.  Once they connect with you, it is the responsibility of that phone call to validate the patient’s decision to choose your office and your care.

Studies indicate the patient accepts your care within the first 10 minutes of encountering the office.  Those few moments are critical in making the right impression and establishing a relationship with the patient.  That is why the telephone is one of the most important tools in the practice!  Managing that tool well is essential in setting the right tone going forward with patient care, treatment acceptance and office protocol compliance.

Ask the right questions that will lead you into a conversation with the patient and provide opportunity to tell them more about the practice, the doctor, and the way they will be treated while in your care.  And always ask permission before you begin asking personal questions:

Example 1–  “So, I may schedule the appropriate appointment for you, may I ask you a few questions?” or

Example 2–  “So I can begin establishing your information in our system, may I ask you a few questions?”

When the patient asks a question, respond with; “I’d be happy to tell you more about that”.  Avoid following a rigid “automated” phone format or quoting “office policy”. The telephone relationship should be a two-way conversation, allowing the patient to tell you everything they want you to know.

Avoid rushing through this vital process.  Give the patient all the time they need to feel they have chosen the right office that will take good care of them.  An excellent way to begin the conversation is to ask, “What inspired you to seek our care?” or “What inspired you to call our office?”

Use this opportunity to let the patient know what is special about your practice.

“May I tell you a little more about the Doctor?”  or “May I share some information about our office?”   Give the new patient the kind of information that will enthuse them to meet you.

When you modify or shift the primary objective of the patients’ first phone call from information gathering to establishing a relationship, the patient will be sure to become a valued part of your dental family and inspired to tell others about your exceptional care.