Are You Unknowingly Allowing Technology to Kill your Dental Business? – Part I

How your office let’s you know or announces the arrival of the next patient for doctors and hygienists creates a huge opportunity for you to positively “advertise” your dental practice’s culture.

Similarly, the protocol you use now, or lack of protocol, may be a severe *service defect* in your office armamentarium that is turning off your patients….and you may not even be aware that you’re doing it…


Let me tell you how simple it is to turn this situation around and to make it  *work* for you in your dental practice, and immediately add “coin” to your dental practice’s image.

You see, this present day and age of computers and networked treatment room workstations has allowed us very easily to become “over-automated” and to lose the personal touch. And heaven knows…we know that as consumers we are all screaming out for that “personal” attention, aren’t we?

We’ve seen that in the grocery store. You race in; you just want to buy a newspaper for say $2.00. You have the cash in one hand, the newspaper in the other hand…but no…. they need to scan it, or they need to key in several or many keystrokes and buttons before you are permitted to exchange your cash for the paper.

Similarly in dentistry the personal touch can easily be diminished because of something that our whiz-bang computer system allows us to do….to the detriment of common courtesy. Let me explain.

I’ve been visiting a few dental offices where their dental software, networked to all treatment rooms, allows front desk, via the software, to alert the treatment room that a patient has arrived for their appointment. Wonderful tool! Or is it?

I’ve got to say I am not a big fan of this facility. Where did it come from? Who invented it? The post office?

I find the use of this feature, and I use the word “feature” in the loosest possible terms, to be one of the most impersonal modalities available to the dental office. Let me explain.


I’ve been visiting one dental office where the treatment room is set up very, how would you say, un-ergonomically. The P.C. for that room sits directly behind the doc, at 12:00 o’clock [to the patient]. The doc, sitting at 11:00 o’clock, has his back to the monitor. The dental assistant, sitting at 3:00 or 4:00 o’clock, has full view of the screen. Now in this office, when the next patient arrives, the front office staff enters it into their terminal and a small icon appears throughout the network to herald that arrival.

Down in the treatment room, the dental assistant, sitting with one eye on the patient and one eye on the monitor, announces proudly to the doc, “your next one’s here”….

And there lies the *epic fail*..

Ask yourself this, having reviewed this scenario; ask yourself, how is this scenario a win for the office?

Let’s run through it step by step, starting in the treatment room.

Firstly, having the DA watching the monitor for the updates distracts her from her primary and what should be her singular purpose at that time which is to be 100% present for the doctor and for the patient. Nothing else. Her primary purpose at this time is to make the doctor’s life easier, and the patient’s visit more comfortable. To me, a clock watching DA is just marking time….

Secondly, her choice of words, in this case, “your next one’s here”? Who chose those? What sort of message does this send to the patient in the chair? Is the patient in the chair feeling like a person, or a number? After all, this terminology implies that the patient being treated was previously heralded as just another “next one”…

Thirdly, the message received by the doctor is taken by him as “you better hurry up….” , in its politest version. Funnily, in this particular office, the announcement by the DA never informs the doc as to how early the “next one” has arrived…

To me this announcement also serves as an alarming distraction to the doctor. It doesn’t tell him who the next patient is, nor does it give him a hint of what he is doing for that next patient. The poor old doc, who has been diligently concentrating on securing that distal proximal box isolation with his matrix band, now has his mind physically torn from that concentration. He asks himself, “who is my *next* one? What am I doing for her? And how long have we got here? Are they early? Will it matter if I run a little over here? Can I alert my *next one* that I am running slightly behind?”…. And so it goes…

So how would you improve on this?

Here’s the procedure we developed over time during my many years at Active Dental Parramatta.

Firstly, we don’t use the computer network for this function. We probably could, but we don’t. We do it manually, and the whole procedure usually takes only 60-90 seconds, and that’s because we have a long corridor or hallway between some treatment rooms and the front office reception area.

Secondly, our treatment rooms are set up with the P.C.s on the doctor’s side, away from the DA. The doc can see the monitor at a sideways glance, for checking charts, radiographs, etc. easily.

Thirdly, the process of someone from the front walking to the back office to announce the patient arrival is far more personable for both the arriving patient as well as the treatment team in the dental office. Here’s why.

The arriving patient is made to feel important by the front office person saying something like “I’ll go and let Dr Moffet know that you’ve arrived”. Nothing more. This is far more pleasant to the arriving patient than seeing someone press a button on a computer, or worse, ring or ding a bell so someone comes running.

The process of going and announcing also allows the front office person to return from the back with information for the arriving patient. They can say things like:

“Dr Moffet said to say hi and to ask you how your trip was…”
“Dr Moffet said hello and also thank you for coming in early/bringing your appointment forward a couple of days…..”

“Dr Moffet said he’s running a little bit behind due to an earlier emergency. He was wondering whether that’s OK with you? Can I get you a tea?”

“Dr Moffet said to say hello and welcome to Active Dental Mr. New Patient. He’s looking forward to meeting you shortly…”

The opportunity to return to the arriving patient with feedback from the back is a great *winner* for the dental office.

Down in the treatment room the arrival of the next patient is announced in the following way:

The front office person enters the treatment room, gauging firstly, when it is OK to speak. Usually, most of the time, they are entering in a non-verbal moment while actual treatment is being performed. However, if there is a conversation or instruction going on between the Doctor and the patient being treated, then the front office person waits for the doc to “invite” them to speak.

The front office person then speaks in a very carefully crafted script. No deviations.

They say, “Excuse me Dr Moffet…[followed by a short pause of one or two seconds only]…just to let you know that Mrs. Betty Smith has arrived for her 9:30 appointment with you”.

Or “Excuse me Dr Moffet…[followed by a short pause of one or two seconds only]..just to let you know that Mr. John Brown has arrived for his 10:00am hygiene appointment with Stacey”.

The pause is very important. It allows the doctor to disengage his visual concentration from what he is doing for the patient and switch his mind to auditory to receive the arrival information. The pause is not for a reply from the doc. He does not need to speak.

The words “Excuse me Dr Moffet” soften the interruption for the treating patient. They promote politeness and an atmosphere of courtesy within the dental office to the patient being treated.

The word “just” and I am not a big fan of the word “just” because it is a redundant word, does have a softening application here, and is very important in softening the interruption to the patient being treated.

The next appointment is clearly identified. The Doc has already huddled for the day, so he knows what he’s going to be doing. Down here we use both the first and last name for the patient, so as there is no confusion as to which patient is here…you see we once had two patents called Russell have sequential hygiene appointments. [I know there may be some privacy issues about this where you work? However, we found that the advantages and benefits of using both names far outweighs the inconvenience and confusion that results from not using both names.]

The patients appointment is then yellow highlighted on a paper copy of the day’s appointment  book which is attached discretely to a wall or cupboard behind and beside the treating patient. [More on the benefit of this in a future blog…]

Following this announcement, the Doctor then speaks with a “thank you Jayne” or something courteous. Again, promoting that atmosphere of politeness within the office, sending that message to the patient being treated. If appropriate, the doc can also add a personal comment to Jayne, like “Oh great, can you ask her please how her daughter’s wedding was?” Again, to the patient being treated, this creates an air or atmosphere of friendliness and engagement. More importantly, compared to the earlier scenario, the treated patient at no time feels that they are a “next one”, or a number.

It takes time and practice to develop these sorts of protocols and procedures that subliminally and indirectly send messages of goodwill to your patients. But the time taken is worth it. It builds credibility and notoriety that your dental office cares, and is different.


This is just one of the many straight forward protocols and procedures that make up The Ultimate Patient Experience, a simple easy to implement system I developed that allowed me to build an extraordinary dental office in an ordinary Sydney suburb.  If you’d like to know more, ask me about my free special report.

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