Patients Are People, Too!

This week I saw a new patient.  His wife found me with an internet search.  He had been seeing another dentist down the street from me for a while.  But, he kept complaining to his wife that he didn’t like the dentist.  Exasperated by his complaints, she found me and insisted that he come to my office.  We hit it off right away.  And, it turns out his wife had some beautiful cosmetic treatment done by a friend of mine in Houston.  A small world story that always creates an even deeper connection.

During our first visit on Monday (to evaluate a broken tooth), the new patient told me about his experience at the other office.  He told me that he was never introduced to the dentist.  He would be seated in the chair and reclined back.  Then the dentist would come in and sit behind him and immediately begin work (without any “how do ya do”).

On his THIRD visit the dentist began work as usual and then rested his forearm firmly on the patient’s head.  The patient raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you to stop for a moment?”

The dentist snorted, “Am I hurting you?”

The patient then quipped, “Naaa… you’re just messing up my hair.”

The dentist, for the FIRST time, wheeled around in front of the patient clearly missing the attempt at some levity and to actually get to know the dentist a little bit.  The patient then said, “I just wanted to meet you.”

I hit it off with this patient right away, because the FIRST thing I did was sit at eye level in FRONT of him.  Before even asking about his tooth, I introduced myself and then asked him about HIM.   How are you doing?  Where are you from?  I hear Chicago is a great city.  Do you live here in Florida full time?   Do you miss Chicago?  Oh, you’re retired now… what kind of work did you do?   An engineer?   What kind?  My dad was an engineer, too.

Today, he returned for a crown on the broken tooth.  After we finished, he asked me if I could re-do the crowns that were recently done by the other dentist.  He didn’t like the shape or the color.  (Can you say “chiclets?”)  The other dentist explained to him that the crowns were made in China.

I know I’m preaching to the choir for the most part here.  This is obvious to most of us.  But, no doubt you all have heard similar stories.  The dentist’s behavior as told by my new patient is not rare or an exceptional situation.

Those of you who know me know I’m a bit of a social butterfly.  I like people.  I like talking with people.  And, I think it’s at least half the reason I enjoy going to the office every day.  I get to meet and talk with people.  And, I know that the anti-social dental experiences aren’t unusual, because some of my patients are quite surprised at my chattiness.  I’m not a “normal dentist” to them.  Many have said, “My last dentist hardly said a word!”

Most patients want to be known as a person rather than a mouth full of teeth… or known as a procedure to be completed.  It’s not that difficult to get patients to talk about their favorite subject – themselves.  Be interested in their lives.  Ask about their dog… or grandchildren… or golf game… or last vacation trip.   And, if you really want to blow them away, REMEMBER something about them and bring it up at the NEXT visit.  “How was your trip to Paris?”  “Is your dog doing better after his operation?” And, so on.

Make a connection with your patients rather than using their heads as an arm-rest!  That’s all for now my fellow Dental Warriors.

PS…   I had another patient this week who started with me a few weeks ago.  She had a toothache but wasn’t sure which tooth it was.  So, I used “Endo Ice” refrigerant on a cotton pellet to test individual teeth.  When I found “the one,” she shouted, “LOUD NASTY WORDS!” And, I mean she said exactly that… literally… “LOUD NASTY WORDS!”  It was something she was taught as a girl as a substitute for real curse words.  And, at age 62, she still used that technique.  I couldn’t help myself and totally cracked up.  My assistant started laughing, too.  And, so did the patient.  Have fun with your patients.  Be REAL with them.  Be a fellow human.  I have a lot of fun with my patients!

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8 Responses to Patients Are People, Too!

  1. Lisa Rager says:

    Mike, Great stories and Oh sooo true! Thank you for sharing your stories with us…working as an EFDA Sub in Ohio I have met many dentists and seen all types of personalities….and you are right patients just want to be seen as people! Have a great Holiday weekend!
    Lisa Rager
    Dependable Dental Staffing

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Thanks, Lisa! Oh, I could go on and on with stories about patients. And, so many of them are so funny. It sure makes the day better when you can laugh. In fact, that’s one of my stated goals with every patient at every visit. My goal is to make each patient laugh at least once during a visit. And, it’s even better if they make ME laugh! 🙂

  2. Its’ obvious you love people and helping them….its’ sadly not always the case with many people in many professions…they just seem to get stuck doing a job they hate, and they make it really obvious to every person they consider ‘just another number’

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      That’s a very sad existence, Warren…. especially if you are a citizen of these Great United States of America, where anyone can do anything. A favorite lyric in the song, “Already Gone,” by the Eagles:

      So oftentimes it happens, that we live our lives in chains,
      and we never even know we have the key.

  3. Nomi Waters says:

    Great Blog! The same advice holds true for the team too! I used to work with a hygienist who would greet her patients, asking “what’s new and exciting?” Before they had a chance to answer her, she was turning on her heel and walking back towards her op, without so much as a “follow me”. The best part was, that she’d walk a few feet in front of them so if they did answer her question, they would be telling it to her back! She was our least popular hygienist, I wonder why? Thanks for the great blog, reminding us to act like humans!

  4. Thanks for sharing Mike. This sort of thing is unbelievably common, although you can hardly believe it in this day and age!
    The worse thing about this is that the dentist down the road is probably blissfully ignorant of his actions but must be wondering why his patient attrition rate is high! Oh well, at least he’s now found a good man and a good dentist.
    Take care, Mike.

    • Mark Frias says:

      It really comes down to basic customer service. It is unbelieveable how so many don’t get it, or don’t care I guess. I’ve been reading a lot of marketing books lately and many of the ideas and concepts in those books seem very obvious, but yet so many don’t use them. How can someone own a dental business and not officially meet his or her customer before the drilling begins! Crazy.

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