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Patients leave practices for many reasons. So what typically goes wrong? Lisa Mergens, a dental practice consultant and owner of Ascendent Dental Development, knows some of the biggest patient turn offs.


1. “Your front desk person is not nice.”

It’s no secret that your front desk is where patients often get their first impression of your office. Make sure it’s a good one by hiring the right staff and training them well. It’s important to not overload your receptionist with tasks that prevent her from communicating with patients. Many patients will choose a dental practice based on the front desk.


2. “They pulled a bait and switch on me.” 

When dentist presents a treatment option, but then decides another, more expensive option is better, the patient may feel like the dentist is upselling. It’s always best to present the best treatment for the patient, then make adjustments, such as completing the treatment in phases. 

We have to remind our patients that we are not selling them dentistry. We are presenting the best-case scenario, and we will adjust from there.


3. “This other dentist said you gave me the wrong treatment.” 

Legally, dentists are required to make sure a patient’s treatment is planned properly, so don’t guess what a patient may or may not want. When dentists do the right thing for their patients, they also minimize the practice’s legal risks. 

If something fails, be prepared for the patient to go to another dentist and then return saying, “You did this treatment on me when you should have been doing that.” 

It helps to train your team – including your receptionist – to know how to respond to an allegation like that. One answer may be to offer the patient a complimentary appointment so the dentist can talk to the patient in person.


4. “The hygienist was too rough.” 

Sometimes, patients feel they were treated roughly because they have poor health. And sometimes, staff is to blame. Either way, you can minimize problems through improved communication and coaching.

And when a patient’s complaint seems to be the result of their condition, explain that they may experience a feeling of pressure as the hygienist performs the procedure, so they are prepared ahead of time. Also, it’s a good practice to let them know they should give you a signal, such as raising a hand, when they need a break.


5. “They charged me more than they said.” 

Your staff needs to know your fees and understand best practices for explaining insurance benefits and fee estimations. Not having your staff up-to-date on what insurance companies are providing in terms of benefits and overextending a patient without them being aware are big no-nos. The last thing your patient wants is to pay more than you said it would cost. 


6. “They’re coming after me when I already paid my bill.” 

Dentists should pay particular attention to the problem of embezzlement when patients pay in cash. Putting a solid process in place to account for liquid payments is a must. 

By understanding what other practices have experienced and putting protocols and processes in place, dentists can avoid embezzlement and deliver high-quality customer service and clinical care that will keep their patients coming back year after year.

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