Time is money

What can dentists learn from opticians? Opticians know if there is a correlation between the length of the examination appointment and the average spend of the patient and it’s a great lesson for dentists.

I really enjoy going to my optician. My examination takes around 45 minutes, then I choose new frames with the dispensing optician taking quick digital photos of me in different pairs to help me choose. Having sorted out my lenses, the optician mentions prescription sunglasses and the choosing starts all over again. Anyway, I generally walk out about every 18 months or so having spent between £500 and £750, feeling very pleased.

The dental practice

In dental practices, I think the dentists believe the purpose of the examination is to look for disease and if they find it, create a plan to get rid of it. That’s why it takes five or 10 minutes. An experienced dentist doesn’t need long to do this and it’s very likely that half of this short amount of time is spent writing up the patient’s notes on the computer.

The likely result of working this way is most treatment plans are short – probably a single tooth intrinsic restoration with a scale and polish added on. If the plan is bigger a high percentage of patients are likely to decline all or some of the treatment or, annoyingly, book an appointment, then go home and cancel.

High patient value

Evidence from Breathe Business members suggests practices that spend longest on their examinations have the highest average patient value. Just like an optician. 

This is how they structure their new longer examination appointments:

  1. Start the appointment in a non-clinical area, build/rebuild rapport and establish the patient’s current situation
  2. Ask if they are happy with the way their mouth feels and looks
  3. Co-examine the patient with the nurse. Talk about what you can see and the consequences of what you can see
  4. Use an intraoral camera
  5. Use an extraoral camera
  6. Show the patient the pictures
  7. Show the patient the radiographs and explain what you can see
  8. Identify the problems to the patient. Don’t take responsibility for these problems (make them the patient’s problem)
  9. Offer the patient a hierarchy of importance of the problems
  10. Ask if they would like to fix the important problems
  11. Offer the patient a choice of options starting with the best
  12. Make a recommendation
  13. Ask if they would like to proceed
  14. If the patient is not sure, ask what they would like the next step to be, for example would they like to come back to discuss in a week’s time?
  15. Accompany the patient to the reception desk and explain to the receptionist what the patient would like to do. 

This type of examination takes 45-60 minutes for a new patient and 20-30 minutes for a returning patient.

For more information or if you’d like to talk to Dr Hocken about examinations at your practice call 0845 299 7209 or visit www.breathebusiness.co.uk.

Dr Simon Hocken established three practices as a dentist before founding the dental consultancy Breathe Business in 2007, which combines life coaching and business performance reporting to help practices improve profitability.

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