Treating patients as consumers can cause expectations to increase beyond realistic, Alun Rees says.

I am an advocate of excellent customer service.

Ryanair excepted, who isn’t?

The best book that I have read in years on running a successful dental business is Danny Meyer’s Setting the table where he tells his story of establishing a number of unique restaurants in New York.

His dedication to providing his patrons with the best possible experiences can teach any budding dental entrepreneur a great deal.

However, when I heard a speaker telling dental students recently that the people we treat are no longer patients but must be treated as customers, because that’s what they expect and demand, I felt drawn to examine my own views.

Treating patients like consumers

In the past 30 years, starting with the lifting of advertising restrictions, there has been a significant increase in treating patients as consumers.

Many good things have accompanied this, practices are (generally) far more pleasant places to visit than they were, the patrician attitude of many clinicians has been replaced by one of cooperation and, above all, the model is gradually changing from disease to health.

This approach mirrors changes in society and dentistry is merely keeping pace.

However, there is a risk when embracing consumerism of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Encouraging people to behave like customers is all well and good but do not complain when they become more fickle and their expectations increase beyond the realistic.

Successful dental businesses succeed because they put relationships, rather than transactions at the heart of everything they do.

At the core of Danny Meyer’s restaurants is the provision of excellent food.

Similarly dentistry must have health at its core; indeed it should be embracing a far more holistic approach than it has.

By starting with ‘do no harm’, dentists must ensure that they remain clinicians first and foremost; that means looking after patients, not customers, clients or punters!


Read more from Alun Rees: