How many times do we rush in the door of our office, minutes before our first patient? Or fly out seconds after our end-of-the-day strategic meeting? Do you ever stop and smell the roses that are (or should be) sitting at your reception desk?
I try to arrive at my office 30 minutes prior to the first patient, but sometimes life gets in the way. Chicago has two seasons: winter and construction. We are currently in construction season, with every possible road to anywhere under some type of delay. So despite our best intentions, arriving early may not always be our reality.
Now, even if everyone arrives on time and starts the day focused on their usual tasks, who takes the time to focus on the physical space of the office? When was the last time you walked through the space and assessed it from the patients' perspective? We usually conduct daily team meetings (either in the morning or at the end of the day), but do we ever take a few minutes to check out our offices?
In this day and age, when patients are not only dental consumers but Internet bloggers, we do not want to give them any reason to make disparaging comments to their real or virtual neighbors. It is truly time to take a look around. What about a stain on the ceiling from a previous rain storm? Do the plants look like they need watering? Does the water in the fresh flowers look cloudy or smell vile? Is the floor clean where you adjusted a resin temporary chairside for the previous patient?
Each team member should take turns being a patient and walk through the office with "patient eyes" on a daily basis. Once a week, one team member should spend five or 10 minutes looking at a space that is not their usual "haunt." The business manager should go back in the operatory, sit in the treatment chair, and look around. The assistant should sit in the reception area and look at the magazines and books, and so forth. Do you have a refreshment area in your reception area? Is the carafe clean? How often is it attended to? Does your team fill it in the morning, then forget about it? What about the fish tank? Do you have any dead things floating around? It only takes a few minutes, but those minutes may help in portraying the kind of dentist you are.
The dentist should not be immune to this exercise either. She or he should spend a few moments upon entering the office to assess what it really looks like. Yes, you change out your pamphlets and change the flowers, but do you switch around your art or other media? Let's step back a little. Do you have art in the office? If not, why not? Patients love to think about things besides their impending dental care when they come into the office. (Well, those patients who are not focused on their BlackBerrys or iPhones.) By changing the position of the visual media (or your diplomas), it gives them something else to focus on.
A final thought about music. I had a very interesting conversation about office sounds with an esteemed colleague. She said she only plays classical music in her office space. She felt that the type of music you play will attract specific types of patients. Is your music too rock and roll for your senior contingent? Is smooth jazz putting your 20-somethings to sleep? Again, it is the little things that patients notice and pass on.
These sorts of office reviews may become part of the team meetings (although if cleaning up or repairs are necessary, they should be attended to immediately). The results should not be a blame game -- whose responsibility it is to keep which area clean, etc. -- but rather another way to work together as a team to reach the common goal of patient satisfaction. The five minutes you spend looking around may save you in more ways that you would ever imagine.
Sheri Doniger, D.D.S., practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She has served as an educator in several dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefit company, and has written for several dental publications. Most recently, she was the editor of Woman Dentist Journal and Woman Dentist eJournal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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