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What do Your Patients Really Want?

Most doctors I meet have a view on what their patient’s priorities are, whether it’s clinical excellence, value for money or simply to avoid pain. This understanding of your patient’s requirements is built up over a number of years through discussions with your patients and by their comments to your team. But how accurate are your beliefs?

Don’t we all tend to remember certain types of information and then generalise this information?

“None of my patients are interested in quality, they are only interested in the cost”

“My patients aren’t interested in Cosmetic Dentistry!”

“The patients around here can’t afford implants”

Now, I am not saying that your global view is without credence as it has come from years of experience, however very rarely have I witnessed a demographic who all have the same aspirations.

So how do you really find out what your patient’s want and whether you are providing it? Easy… ask them. Patient surveys are nothing new, however with the advent of the internet they have become a whole lot simpler and cheaper to implement. Sending out a paper based patient survey is expensive, just the cost of the postage would run into thousands for most practices – and they have a notoriously low response rate. Conversely, on-line surveys and surveys conducted in the practice are well received, as they are simple to complete and are very cost effective.

To maximise the benefit form a patient survey you need to ask the right questions, get enough responses and then put the information to good use. The process needs to be carefully mapped out; from the way you ask questions, to the way you respond to results.

Ask the right questions

Choose questions carefully, or your survey won’t give you the information you really need. Surveys typically cover the following areas:

      • Access (ease of getting through on the phone, ease of getting an appointment, waiting times).
      • Communication between the patient and office (quality of dental information materials, ability to get a call returned).
      • Staff (courtesy of the receptionist, caring of dental nurses, helpfulness of the whole team) and the interaction with the doctors (whether the doctor listens, thoroughness of explanations or treatment plans or individual procedures, whether the doctors take time to answer questions, how much time the doctors spend with the patient).

It’s easy to devote too many questions to waiting rooms and waiting times, these questions are important, but they pale in significance to the interaction between the dentist and the patient and the way patients are treated by the whole team.

One important question is exactly how many surveys you’ll need completed to get reliable results? Ideally, you would refer to the fact that most patients could complete the survey on-line and you can also include a hard copy as they leave with their hygiene kit. Once you have received over 200 responses then you can start to analyse the results and look for patterns of dissatisfaction as well as satisfaction.

Although the idea of the survey is to find out how you can improve your services to suit your patient’s ever changing needs, it is also a great tool to find out what you are doing right and allows you to praise accordingly. If a particular member of staff is constantly being praised in the returned surveys, then not only does this allow you to reward this member of your team, but it will also act as a motivator for the rest of your team to improve their customer service skills.

Once you have implemented a survey culture then it’s important to use the results. No matter how much time you spend implementing a survey or how carefully you word it; it will do little good if you let the results gather dust in a drawer. Have regular meetings where you table the results to the whole team and agree on effective changes to meet your patient’s needs.

A survey is a very effective way of getting some real and meaningful information and you will be surprised just how different your patient’s perception of your practice is to your own.