Surprise your patients

By | May 9, 2018

How can you make your practice stand out above the others in your community? How can you build loyalty, referrals and positive reactions to social media posts?

A dental practice is mainly a service business, and everyone in the practice is a participant in that service. The better the service, the more patients are impressed. Improving service so that patients are surprised should be a goal of every dental practice.

To offer surprising service, you must have excellent management procedures in place for every aspect of the practice. It’s impossible for the practice to exceed patient expectations if the person at the front desk is not well versed in appointment procedures for the doctors and hygienists. It’s impossible to treat patients properly if the operatories are not smoothly running. Techniques and protocols must be honed to near perfection at every step along the patient’s way through the office. And everyone must realize that it is his or her job to make that happen.

If you think of instances outside dentistry where you have received surprising service — maybe at a top-notch restaurant or in a special clothing store — you’ll remember that every detail worked well for you. You were greeted warmly, treated with respect and attentiveness and given your money’s worth.

If you’d like to greatly improve your service to surprise your patients, my first recommendation is that you challenge your whole team with the concept that your current service isn’t good enough. Too often doctors and team members meet together and compliment each other on how well they are doing. They pat each other on the back and continue to offer mediocre efforts to care for patients. If you start a team meeting with the belief that you aren’t doing enough to serve your patients, it opens the floodgates of opportunity to figure out how to do more and how to do it better.

As a dental practice lecturer, I often ask audiences, “What is the first time that the office and patients will have a significant exchange?” and they will yell out, “The phone call.” It is an early and important exchange, but how are the exchanges that happen every day in the community between a member of the team or doctor and a patient or potential patient handled?

Does the office have an “elevator speech” that quickly helps the person see the quality of the practice? Do the team members have a plan for how to guide the patient into the office: with a business card or does everyone just wing it? And, yes, then comes the phone call where many patients begin to judge the quality of the care they will be receiving, followed by the greeting when they first walk into the office. Does the receptionist address the patient by name? Do patients get the chance to let the office know why they are visiting? And you can go on from there to break the practice into every exchange: the introduction of the doctor, the examination, the treatment presentation, the end of the appointment, the evening call and many more interactions.

Hours of team meetings can delve into the details of patient management until the whole practice surprises the patients. What you’ll receive for your efforts is a practice that makes patients smile, that builds an unbreakable bond with them, that helps with diagnosis and treatment as they feel heard and appreciated, and that stimulates their referrals and positive reviews. And you’ll be surrounded by team members who understand their very important roles in the success of the practice and the positive support of the patients.

You can begin the process tomorrow by making surprising service a part of every staff meeting. Empower team members to learn from other businesses where they see great service and bring it back to the practice. Conduct surveys to ask patients about ways to improve your service to them. And start the structural change that builds exceptional service into every aspect of the practice. It’s actually fun to do.

You can take a deeper dive into surprising your patients by listening to the webinar I presented for the American Dental Association’s Guidelines for Practice Success titled, Is Your Practice Exceeding Patient Expectations?

The Guidelines for Practice Success grew out of an ADA effort to reach dentists with effective modules to help them navigate the business side of dental practice. The guidelines offer modules on managing patients, finances, marketing, the dental team and the regulatory environment. Learn more at

This article, written by Dr. William van Dyk, originally appeared in the 2018 Winter Dental Practice Success. Dr. van Dyk practices general dentistry in San Pablo, California, and teaches in the department of Dental Practice at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. He lectures throughout the US and Canada and is happy to expand on his message of surprising patient management. He can be reached at or at

3 thoughts on “Surprise your patients

  1. Saidul

    I agree with your first point. The person who sits on the front desk must be friendly and experienced to handle the pressure. Sometime patients can be restless because of slight delay which can be neutralised intelligent front-desk person.
    However, I don’t think that challenging team by saying that they are not doing enough good will improve the service. Yes, it is true that a team meeting is essential to find out where team can ameliorate.

  2. Nathan

    Great article! In my practice, we strive to making sure our patients have a great experience from the time they call to the time they leave our practice. It is like “Show time!” We do not say or do things that would ruin the patient experience while they are at our office. Some of the many things that we do to impress our patients include: 1. We bond with our patients on a personal level. 2. We make sure they feel relaxed by offering blankets, movies on Tv and reassuring them that we are going to take a great care of them. 3. We try to perform painless injections. 4. We call our patients at the end of the day. When you have a great relationship with your patients, then it’s really easy to ask you patients for referrals and positive authentic online reviews. These are the two things that can really help to grow your practice without spending any money on marketing. In my practice, we get most of our new patients from referrals and from Google, mostly because we have a lot of satisfied patients and 272 positive Google reviews, respectively. I recommend everyone, especially the new practice owners, to spend some effort to take an excellent care of their patients and bond with them! If you do that your practice will grow.

    Nathan Ho
    CEO of

  3. Od. Luis Marcano

    I liked this post! and I agree with you

    We need to start asking questions and listening, it is very easy, and maybe, for that reason, it´s forgotten

    By listening to our patients we´ll discover the clues to improve our practices

    Listening is a way of conveying that we care!


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