A key element of practice design is respect for patients’ privacy, yet this often takes a back seat in favour of creating a pleasant, open-plan space. However, it can be awkward to be an onlooker, pretending not to hear conversations between staff and patients, some of which can be very personal and can also be very uncomfortable for the patients themselves.
Conversations about treatment plans, details of costs incurred, outstanding bills are, of course, necessary to the running of a dental practice, but facilitating an area of privacy can make all the difference to the way your patients feel and the extent to which they will discuss their options openly.
Whether you are an NHS, mixed or fully private practice, patients generally have higher expectations of the conditions in the practice, the quality of service you provide and the time you are able to offer them. If they’re unhappy with the service or the environment, they’re more likely to take their business elsewhere. What’s more, they may also tell others of their concerns, which is bad news for your reputation.
Gavin Willis from Paradigm designs said: ‘Once your practice steps out of the “needs-driven” dentistry arena and into the “desire-driven” sector, there are some subtle, but vital, changes that will occur in your clientele’s expectations. It’s worth trying to put yourself in their shoes; walk into your practice and picture where you would be happy to have a discussion about payments or how to fund a treatment plan. If your appointments are widely spaced and there are rarely patients waiting, privacy is unlikely to be an issue. However, in a busy practice served by several practitioners, a quiet area or separate consultation room is invaluable.’
Ideally, such a room would be positioned close to the reception so it’s easy for patients and staff to access. Even if it’s a separate area of the reception desk, conversations are much less inhibited if the patient doesn’t feel everyone is able to overhear. Some payment plan specialists, such as Denplan, work with other providers to offer members discounts on services such as practice design and refurbishment, as well as low interest loans to undertake the work. If you’re interested in attracting new patients, you may need a bit of an overhaul in so far as your décor goes, so it’s well worth asking your provider to find out what it can do for you.
Modern dental practices are increasingly appointing a treatment coordinator (TCO) to liaise between the patient and any specialists needed to put together a treatment plan. It’s a role that often starts with an induction to the practice in which the practice’s range of services can be explained and concerns can be addressed in a more relaxed environment. Since the TCO can get a feel for what the patient expects from the practice from the beginning, the role can be a powerful tool in promoting treatments not otherwise considered.
Gavin Willis added: ‘Working in the tranquillity of a consultation room gives a TCO a huge advantage over those battling with phones ringing and other patients queuing to make appointments. They have time to chat to the patient about family and friends who might also want to attend the practice, as well as discussing the patient’s own oral health, so the patient feels comfortable, welcome and receptive to the idea of more advanced treatments where appropriate.’
Likewise, if your practice has an appointed Denplan champion, a quiet area or consultation room provides the ideal environment for them to explain the benefits of a payment plan without the distractions of a busy reception area. Being able to determine what plan best suits the patient’s circumstances, answer any queries and look at what their monthly fee covers is much more likely to achieve a positive result than if a patient feels rushed. This can make a huge difference to the success of your practice, with some realising an increase in patient recruitment of more than 35% (the highest net patient increase from 143 practices with a Denplan champion between April and August 2011, internal Denplan survey) following appointing a champion.
In essence, your practice’s front of house is your shop window, but it also has to perform its function seamlessly and professionally. Wow the patient with a superbly designed interior and magical lighting, but get the basic layout to gel too and you’ll avoid that awkward moment when the patient needs some privacy and you can’t provide it.