Does the quality of your new patient examination have any bearing on:

– Long-term patient retention?
– Referrals?
– Case Acceptance?
– Reducing Cancellations and No-Shows?

I’ll cut to the chase…YES! In big bold capital letters!

I’ve seen this prove out time and again. A high-quality new patient exam that “knock’s a patient’s socks off” and leaves them impressed (with you and your office) sets the stage to improving everything I’ve referenced above.

And sure, there are other ingredients to improving on these points, but the new patient exam is a vital part of the overall new patient experience that is often over looked.

Ideally, you should have a uniform system or process for running your exam (and other new patient related procedures in the office). It should be predictable for both you and your team. And that’s why I’m writing this article – to give you a simple 5 step framework that you can use to formalize a system that works for your office. And obviously, every office is different, so it’s important that your plan or system suits you, but in the end, the most important factor is that you have a plan or system! Using what you come up with on a routine basis can take the new patient experience to the proverbial “next level,” and put your office on the road to improved performance.

Before I give you my 5 simple steps, I must remind you that it is important to keep the steps in order and do the steps you work out the same exact way every single time. The new patient exam is really no different than how you approach many other clinical aspects of dentistry, which are repetitive actions that produce predictable results.

Step 1 – Know the Exam

The new patient exam must be thorough and comprehensive unless it is an emergency and time does not allow for a lengthy patient exam. In this case, you provide the limited evaluation and diagnosis and bring the patient back for a comprehensive evaluation. Either way steps 2, 3 and 4 apply.

Step 2 – Not the Ordinary Introduction

An ordinary dentist walks into the room, says hello to the new patient, may make some social small talk and then gets started with the exam. Do not be ordinary!
Ask questions and get to the know the patient before you start the exam. The questions asked should be designed around the patient and their dental health, experiences and expectations.
I suggest you create about 5 short questions that you can ask every new patient, that will:

– give you information on what brought them in today,
– tell you what dental concerns they have now or for the future,
– show you what their past dental experiences and checkups have been like,
– give you an idea of what they hope to achieve for their oral health and aesthetic long term, and
– provide what they are looking for in a dentist or dental office.

This gives you the past, present and future dental picture of this patient. It also lets the patient know that you care and are listening.

(Related: 5 Ways to Improve the Patient Experience)

Step 3 – Bring the MAGIC!

If anything comes up from the steps above, work to handle any of their concerns.

For example, if the patient says they will only do what the insurance covers and nothing more, you would first of course acknowledge their statement and then you might respond with something along the lines of: “I hear that from many of my patients, but do you mind if I share some facts with you about how dental insurance works?” Then just share with the patient the truth, in a polite way, about dental insurance and what it really means.

The concerns and issues a patient brings up are as variable as there are people in the world! Just make sure that you listen well and do whatever you can to handle things as they come up.
The MAGIC here is the patient has been heard and their concerns have been addressed. This shouldn’t take more than just a few minutes as long as you keep the conversation focused on the topic. This time investment is much more purposeful and appreciated than learning the names of their three dogs and four cats.

Step 4 – Ask Permission and Use Good Manners

Think about this for a minute: it is only polite before you stick your hands in someone’s mouth to ask first! Where have our manners gone?

Tell the patient you will be getting started and ask if it is okay to lean back in the chair and start. As they are leaning back in the chair, tell the patient what you will be doing today.

For example, “Today I am going to look at your teeth and your gums. I will look for oral cancer inside and out; I’ll check your jaw joints and then look for lumps and bumps around your face and neck.” Now ask permission to start, like this: “Is it okay to get started and look in your mouth?”

And the extra step to seal the deal is to use please and thank you when asking the patient to do something particular. For example, “Open please, thank you.” This step may seem remedial, but believe me when I say this step, along with steps 2 and 3 above, will create that “wow” factor and set you apart from any other ordinary dentist by giving the patient a killer experience.

Step 5- Respect the Patient’s Time and add Structure

In respect of the patient’s time, do the exam in a structured manner with a dental assistant or hygienist. To increase efficiency and conserve time for all parties involved, follow an exact pattern to the exam every single time.

An example would be to start the exam by examining the teeth (a general look), then the gums (a general look), followed by a visual oral cancer exam and jaw joint palpation. Then finally, feel the neck for lumps and bumps (remember to ask permission first). Now go back to the teeth and chart existing restorations first, then existing conditions (like decay, missing teeth etc.), THEN start calling out the treatment plan, preferably in order of how it needs to be done. This structure will provide a smooth integration of data entry from you to your assistant to the chart!

Warning! When calling out the treatment plan, please remember not to use words that can scare the patient away (i.e. “root canal” or “extraction” or “crown”). Use abbreviations and be sure to let the patient know that while they may not understand a word you said, you will make sure they understand everything when you explain their treatment plan.

By applying and keeping in the 5 steps above, you will be taking the ordinary out of the new patient exam, resulting in a time efficient and amazing killer experience!

For more details on this process and how to take it up to the next level of what happens after you make the treatment plan, come attend the MGE Communication and Sales Seminars. Attending this seminar series is one of the biggest no-brainers in the dental industry. It teaches you how to create a fantastic patient experience and gives you techniques to present treatment so that the patient understands their treatment plan and sees the importance of doing it now. It’s all about helping your patients to get started on the treatment they need, from bread-and-butter dentistry to larger full-mouth cases, without pushy sales tactics — just simple communication and honesty. The results from these seminars are staggering, with countless doctors collecting an additional $10,000, $20,000, $40,000 or more per month and doing more comprehensive dentistry. I highly suggest you attend. Call 1-800-640-1140 to register today!

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