Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Losing Patients

Just got back from a long weekend at the beach with my wife, celebrating our 15th year wedding anniversary. ALONE. Oh my gosh, it was nice.

I have a 28-year-old patient who has been a patient here for ever. Her teeth started to hurt after she hadn't been here for a couple of years. (Oh pain, the great motivator.) Turns out she needed a RCT, but was tight on cash. I asked if she would be interested in watching my kids for 5 days. She was in (she used to be a nanny and still does it wasn't really that much of a stretch), so that part of the trip was set.

I borrowed a friends beach condo and we just left. We relaxed. We slept until 8am (yes, this is sleeping in for parents of 4). We did a lot of sitting on the balcony reading. I smoked some cigars. We watched Inception. We went and ate down at the pier. We took walks on the beach. And other than a couple of meals was nearly free. NICE!!!

I want to talk to you about losing patients. I can't remember what got me fired up about this subject. I had a friend tell me a story last week. He had a patient call and tell him he was leaving his practice. Of course, he asked the patient why.

The patient said that his wife had a crown replaced and when she asked for the old crown, my friend gave it to her. My friend responded didn't understand what the problem was. "Well, we are upset because you didn't offer her the old crown." [For the record, I don't offer patients their crowns back. Do you?]

I was talking to a friend that owns a retail shop. He bought an existing shop, tried to make it better and just changed the name. We were out to dinner the other night and we started talking about work. He claims that he wishes he could be more like me when it came to criticism. He thinks that I just blow it off. Because really I do. I have gotten to the point that if they leave our practice, I do kind of blow it off. I will talk about this later. But back to him...

He says someone would come in and say, "You sure have made a lot of changes in this place." He is an introvert and things similar to what I am about to say just don't come as easyily to him. This statement something critical.

I would say, "How do you like those changes?" Or "What do you think of those changes?" But he won't ask those questions because he doesn't want the rejection. He said, "I know they could be saying something positive, but I fear rejection so much that I just don't want to hear it."

Wow. This is so foreign to me that I scoffed at him.

I told him that it sounded to me like this person has something to say. Now if this person has to say that she doesn't like the way you set up the X. You hear what she has to say and you can tell her that the reason you put X there is because of Blah, blah, blah. Just as long as you strike up a conversation with her. She wants to be heard and you heard her. If you never talk to her and she doesn't get heard then there is a chance she is gone. It is all about relationships. I know that; he knows that; you know that.

I mean, when people are calling your office and asking how much you charge for a crown, what are they asking? Do they really care if you are $28 more than the next guy? No, they want to know that you are going to care about them.

If you say, $1200 and hang up, you have not separated yourself from the $1150 guy. Now, if you strike up a conversation with them and ask them what is going on and ask them to tell you the story. "Just give my doctor a chance. Let's have you come in and let him look at it, because a lot of times he might not think you need a crown." BADDA BING. You have a raving fan.

But back to the losing patients thing. I am old enough to know that I can't please everyone. Trust me, I have tried. I can't do it. There are a couple of reasons someone will not like me.

They don't like my dentistry. This one really hurts me. I take so much pride and I want to do it the best. I want to wow everyone. If someone told me that they didn't trust me or they were displeased with my work, I don't know what I would do (luckily this has not happened too much, I give them their money back and let them drive someone else crazy).

They don't like my personality. You may ask yourself, "What isn't there to like?" I ask myself the same thing. In my attempt to make it fun here, in my attempt to make people comfortable, I can be loud. I can be crude. I can be unprofessional (a cuss word might slip out every once in a while). I have great intentions, but everyone is not going to like my style. And, quite frankly, I am at the point in my life where I know this and it is totally okay. I know I am going to lose patients because I "made some changes around here." I hate that it happens, but I know they are going to find a dentist that fits their style, and everyone will be happier.

Some of you who are introverts may be losing patients because you are too quiet. And you know what? THAT IS OKAY. We extroverts are losing patients because we talk too much. Some people leave because we are too tall, too short, dress funny... We have to let them go.

We have to do our best and take pride in our work. And we HAVE to care. But we have to have our own style. We have to make ourselves happy before we can make others happy.

How is it with you?

Have a great Wednesday,


Cesar said...

good approach john. it took me a while to learn to brush it off, and now i don't even ask my office manager why someone left. or where they went. people should have options and choices, and may choose to exercise them at any point.

life's too short to care about someone pouting and walking off anyway.

Anonymous said...

That is just life. Different strokes for different folks. Nothing wrong with that. As you said let them go drive someone else nuts.

Kallie said...

Agree. I don't like it in dental school when I lose a patient, especially when it is because of the red tape of the academic world of dentistry :( "I have to wait that long for an appointment?/I really have to have a deep cleaning before we can do X,Y and Z?"

samw said...

As a practice manager, I cringe at the thought of losing a patient. an important portion of the day is spent making sure the schedule is full and new patients are calling. I know it happens and I know I will hear the earful as to why. But the truth is, some are better lost. When the new dentures don't feel like the ones he had worn for 45 years (that are broken and loose). And he doesnt believe they aren't supposed to. Let him go on his merry way.

Anonymous said...

Seems like the majority of the patients we lose have issues over finances,many we try to work with, some we won't. I agree that life is too short to lose sleep over every lost patient. I know that they received the best I could give, beyond that, that's life.

As for old crowns/bridges, I always offer to return them, but I also tell that any crowns I keep I add to a collection that gets cashed in once a year and the money goes to the local program to support homeless children in our school system. There are some years they get a several thousand dollar check.

Connie said...

Before I forget, if you think the nanny-babysitter who kept your kids would like more work and wouldn't mind giving out her contact info, please email it to me! I'd love to get away for a few days with the spouse.

To me, as your patient, you obviously do your very best, as a competent dentist, but also to make people feel at ease and feel important in your office. I have also always thought you had outstanding, super friendly and helpful staff. And of many, many physicians and dentists I've been to, you're the only practice that keeps close track of the billing and actually sends a refund if there is overpayment.

You're right, you can't take it personally if someone leaves. Some people are never happy, and it doesn't matter what you do for them. There are people that are going to leave for convenience reasons - someone else is closer to their work or whatever. Or insurance reasons.

I used to take it very personally when someone was unhappy with me in my work (and usually it had NOTHING to do with me) but my skin has gotten much thicker over the past 5 years. Do your best for the patient, sleep well at night, and forget about the rest.

Dentist Sunnyvale said...

For me, you have just done and give the best service that you can for them If they are not satisfied, well maybe try other strategy so that other clients will still like you and your service.Best Regards John!

dentists in Mississauga said...

A good point made over this issue. i find this very good and also trustable for all of us, though we may have some personal discomfort time to time.


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