The No. 1 Reason to Measure Your Patients’ Satisfaction

  • by Duke Aldridge, DDS, MBA, MAGD, DICOI, MICOI, FMISCH
  • Jun 6, 2017, 09:53 AM
Recently, I had an interesting conversation with an owner colleague (Dr. Colleague) regarding the various means by which he and his staff solicit patient comments (via comment cards, website, text message, etc.). He was concerned about the number of patients who were moving their records (attrition; aka, churn rate) and figured it must be associated with insurance, patient relocation, changing jobs, big-box dental chains, competitor’s fees, etc. By the way, Dr. Colleague is a talented dentist with excellent clinical skills who has been practicing for more than 25 years. Suffice it to say, his office collections were more than $2,600,000 in 2016, and he is a popular doctor on the speaking circuit. 

Yes, I said, “collections,” not production. As a sidenote, in my opinion, production means almost nothing. It primarily serves as a benchmark from which to measure your collections and also as “bragging rights” for those of us who sit chairside at continuing education (CE) programs and tell our colleagues how successful our business is. Right or wrong, I believe this is where we get some of our satisfaction. After all, we are only human. 

With regard to measuring patient satisfaction, a deeper dive into Dr. Colleague’s operation revealed that his team was trained (by a marketing firm who was selling their product) to be selective in seeking customer feedback. Unfortunately, Dr. Colleague’s team only solicits comments from customers who have displayed obvious satisfaction during their patient visit. Prior to dismissing the patient, the employees are incentivized ($1 per “positive” review) to implore the “satisfied” patient to write a review through a third party (marketing product) that is then uploaded into the dental business website. 

By the way, I have no issue with team members and dentist asking for reviews or referrals. After all, I was trained in this highly internal marketing concept during my years at Hilton Hotels Corp. It is a powerful and effective way to build a patient base and is simply smart business etiquette. However, in Dr. Colleague’s case, employees were led to believe that positive reviews will offset negative reviews and that little attention should be paid to the poor reviews. This is simply wrong! There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, and no data to support their contention. Indeed, poor reviews can be vetted for the time being. However, is this any way to do business? Meta-analysis, please? 

As clinicians with various levels of training and experience, we all have one thing in common. We know what it is like to experience failure (that sunken feeling) during a dental procedure and fall short of achieving the outcomes we expected. The patient or dental assistant may not detect our struggles, but we do. This built-in “feedback loop” has its advantages and serves to help us understand our limitations and/or the areas of clinical dentistry in which we may need CE or mentoring. After all, if we don’t meet the “Standard of Care,” we may have to deal with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration or State Dental Board. If a patient files a complaint, for any reason with any dental board in the United States, the dental board has a duty to investigate, and it will. So how does this relate to measuring patient satisfaction? We need to make sure we have a system that invites and allows every disgruntled patient to voice their opinion. Further, we need to acknowledge their frustration and concerns and take action to improve upon our deliverables, including the most important of all: five-star customer service. Without a conduit to voice their displeasure, it is only a matter of time until our patients will take to the “airwaves” (Yelp, Google, social media, etc.) and share their displeasure with the world. 

With that said, there is one good thing that can come out of poor reviews. We learn to listen and improve upon everything we do. It won’t happen on its own. Make sure you have a system that invites and solicits comments from all patients — not just the satisfied. We have to know where we are failing in order to learn how to become successful. 
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