Focusing on the care and treatment of patients and maintaining a happy and efficient team whilst simultaneously running a business, means that practice owners often tend to rely more on instinct to judge how well their practice is running, rather than asking the patients directly about the service they are receiving.
Communicating effectively with patients is one of the core principles in the CQC Standards for the Dental Team. Standard 2.1 states: ‘You must communicate effectively with patients – listen to them, give them time to consider information and take their individual views and communication needs into account.’ Whilst on the face of it this can be seen as only relevant when talking to patients about their treatment, it actually covers a much wider remit and consideration should be given to how the practice is delivering its service and those aspects which are most important to patients.
Monitoring, listening to and acting on patient feedback are vital factors and rather than relying on ‘gut feeling’ about what patients want, practices should employ more formal means of assessing patient needs. Using patient satisfaction surveys to systematically monitor patients’ experience allows the whole dental team to receive honest feedback about the service they are providing. It is an opportunity to discover those things that really matter to patients, rather than assuming that their priorities are the same as your own.
Having direct feedback from patients in this way gives a valuable indication of where things are going well for the practice, but also identifies where things may be going astray so that remedial action can be taken. Once completed, a questionnaire provides invaluable information that can then be used internally to motivate staff, improve practice efficiency or even help as a marketing tool to target new patients more accurately.
However, collecting the information from patients is the easy part. What is more difficult is the analysis of the results and then using the outcomes to benefit working practices. Rather than just collecting information for the sake of it there is a real need to focus on acting on the results and this is emphasised in the CQC fundamental standards that call for the practice to be ‘responsive’.
Some suggestions received during such surveys may be relatively simple to implement, but where more long-term improvements are indicated there may be a need to make more fundamental changes that include staff training.
Some dental practices avoid surveys as they worry about negative feedback, but in reality, negative comments are of equal value to positive ones and in some cases more so, as they highlight where the service to patients is under-performing, enabling appropriate action to be taken.
Customer Satisfaction Survey
At DPAS, we undertake various surveys as well as canvassing for ad hoc feedback. Often comments and feedback, be they positive or negative, are followed up with a phone call to the practice to gain more details, enabling us to thank them for the comment or to reassure them that their concerns are being acted upon. Positive feedback is always passed on to the relevant person and acts as a real motivator for individuals. I believe that practices can learn a lot from this approach and gain a great deal of momentum by sharing positive feedback with the whole team.
Listening to our customers and acting on their needs is central to everything we do throughout our business and we always strive to put the customer first. As part of this commitment we measure customer satisfaction across all areas of our business through our annual DPAS Customer Satisfaction Survey. This gives us a valuable insight into how well we are performing in the eyes of our customers, and where we can still make improvements.
Aside from this annual survey we are constantly seeking feedback through a combination of formal feedback forms but also informally over the telephone – proving there are always opportunities to listen to your customers’ perspective – and wherever we can we act on these responses. One example of this is the way in which we have altered the frequency of practice visits from our practice consultants. Depending on individual practice needs, we have responded by scheduling either more or less visits. In the same way, we have responded to feedback gathered about our training sessions. Various comments led us to re-assess some aspects of our training modules and as a result, we have made some sessions more interactive and included training on general communication skills and how to identify patient needs. Both of these elements were specifically requested by our customers.
Listening and responding
One of the best examples of us responding to feedback has been in the development of our web based dental plan management system – Supportal, which was developed with the needs of our customers firmly in mind. By listening to our customers, we were able to understand those things they wanted to gain access to, and in what way. We continually seek customer feedback on this service because it enables us to review, revise and improve what we deliver, and we will be looking to launch an updated version of Supportal in the near future.
Of course, it’s impossible and probably unnecessary to cater for the unique requirements of every patient, so there needs to be processes in place for assessing feedback and identifying common themes, which, when acted upon, will provide the impetus to transform your service.
Without patients, a dental practice cannot survive and that is why listening to and responding where appropriate to the things that make your patients happy is key to building a successful and sustainable business.