We only get one chance at a first impression.
The approach you take with your new patients may determine whether they return for a second appointment. That’s why it’s vital to build a patient-provider relationship based on openness and understanding right from the start. When you take the time to understand each other, you’re setting your practice up for higher patient retention and case acceptance.
Here are five questions to ask new patients that can get their first appointments off to a great start.
1. Who should we thank for referring you?
A new patient’s referral source can tell you whether or not the patient has already put their trust in your practice. If the patient was referred by a personal connection—a friend or trusted physician, for example—then they already have a measure of trust in your practice.
However, if they found your practice online or on a list from their insurance provider, they’re much less likely to have faith in your practice over others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that your team may need to put a little extra effort into making this patient feel welcome.
If the patient was referred by a personal connection, follow up by asking them what about the referral made them want to schedule at your practice in particular. This can reveal what qualities are important to them in a dental provider.
2. Why did you leave your last dental practice?
Asking this question helps to identify what not to do if you want them to stay.
Not all patients leave a dentist for negative reasons. Some may have relocated to a new area, and some may have aged out of pediatric care. But if your new patient left their last provider over something more serious, like unreasonable costs or disagreement over their treatment plan, this lets you know what your practice needs to do differently to keep their business.
If they left because of an insurance change, this is a great time to ask them if they’ve used their dental insurance before and if they understand how it differs from health insurance. If they realize that dental insurance is a “use it or lose it” benefit, they’re more likely to accept your treatment plan.
3. When was your last dental appointment?
This question indicates the value your new patients place on dentistry and their oral health. It also provides clues as to how likely they are to accept a long-term treatment plan.
If they’ve only been to the dentist once or twice in the past ten years, they may not be as interested in a long-term elective treatment. However, these patients might prefer to get all four crowns or fillings at once rather than to spread them out over time. Keeping their visit frequency in mind when deciding how to approach them with your treatment plan can help increase case acceptance.
4. What concerns are you hoping to take care of?
Whether or not the patient’s answer to this question matches up with your assessment gives you valuable insight into their understanding of their oral health. If their mouth doesn’t hurt right now, they may be in denial that anything is wrong. When this is the case, focusing on patient education is key.
Asking this question can also show their initial openness to elective treatments and services like tooth straightening and whitening. Consider adding a field to your digital check-in form that gauges interest in these services. When you use DentalForms, flagging these answers as high value will highlight them at the top of the patient form and give you a clue to bring them up in the conversation.
5. What questions do you have for me?
Even though the patient has done most of the talking so far, the power to direct the conversation has remained in your hands. This question gives power back to the patient and makes them feel more comfortable in the patient-provider relationship. It also gives you a chance to address any lingering concerns before the patient leaves, increasing the likelihood that they’ll return.
If they don’t have any questions right then, invite them to call your office if they think of anything later. They will leave their appointment feeling like they have a say in their healthcare decisions, and may be more satisfied as a result.
Integrating these questions into your patients’ first appointments sets you up for a patient-provider relationship based on trust and mutual understanding. When new patients are highly satisfied after only one visit, your patient retention and case acceptance rates will show it.
*The questions in this article were adapted from a talk by Ken Runkle.