New-patient interview aids treatment acceptance

By Sally McKenzie, contributing writer

April 9, 2019 -- When patients visit your practice for the first time, you really don't know much about them. You have no idea what motivates them, what they think about their smile, or their oral health goals. One way to discover this information and build rapport is to conduct a new patient interview.

Sally McKenzie
Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management.

When you understand what's most important to your patients, you can tailor your education and treatment recommendations to meet their needs. Not only does that help patients feel more connected to you and your practice, which fosters loyalty, it also helps boost case acceptance.

Patients are more likely to trust you if they see you as a partner in their care rather than someone who's just trying to sell them dentistry. Instead of feeling pressured, patients feel much more in control of the process and actually want to accept the treatment you recommend.

Putting together the questions

Ready to implement the new-patient interview in your practice but not sure what to ask? Here are a few questions that should get patients talking:

  • Does your smile give you confidence when you interact with people in both your personal and your professional life?
  • Is there anything that bothers you about your smile? If the answer is yes, what?
  • If you could change anything about your smile, what would it be?
  • Do you ever have problems chewing? Do you ever experience pain?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is achieving optimal oral health to you?
  • Have you ever had a negative experience in a dental office? If yes, do you mind sharing what happened? How was the issue resolved?

Use their answers

Some of my clients have their treatment coordinator conduct this interview and then enter answers into the patient's electronic record. This makes it easy to review the responses before the initial exam and to tailor it to each patient's specific wants and needs.

“Patients are more likely to trust you if they see you as a partner in their care.”

For example when patients indicate they're not happy with their smile, ask them to tell you what they'd like to change and why. You're showing them you care about their goals, and you're also gaining valuable insight into what's most important to them.

This also gives you the opportunity to talk with them about the services your practice offers that can help them meet their goals. Help them see the value in the care you provide, then use tools like intraoral cameras and x-rays to show them exactly what's going on in their mouths. Point out any problem areas, and let them know how you can help them fix those areas. You'll start to earn their trust, and they'll start to understand how you can help them reach their oral health goals.

Don't overwhelm them

While you might discover a large number of issues when examining new patients, resist the urge to give them large treatment plans that list out every issue and how much it costs to fix them -- even if you think treating these problems aligns with the goals patients indicated during their interview.

Keep in mind these patients are just getting to know you and your practice, and they may not trust you yet. If you give them a pricey treatment plan during their very first visit, they might think your focus is selling them on expensive dentistry, which could be off-putting enough to send them to the practice down the street.

Instead of overwhelming them, talk about their most immediate needs first. If they accept treatment and are happy with the results, they'll likely want to hear how you can address any other problems they're having.

Strong case presentations also boost case acceptance

When it's time to actually present treatment, it's important to focus on education rather than how much the procedure will cost. Train your treatment coordinator to talk to patients about why they need treatment, what's involved with the procedure, and the possible consequences of not going forward with treatment before bringing up cost. That way, patients won't focus on money while your coordinator is trying to explain the procedure and its benefits.

Remember, treatment should be presented in a relaxed environment where patients feel comfortable asking questions. The coordinator should cover every element of treatment and address any concerns patients might have. And if patients don't commit before they leave, the coordinator should follow up two days later with the goal of getting them on the schedule.

Create connections

Patients want to feel a connection to the practice they call their dental home. They want to know you get their concerns and have their best interest at heart. The new-patient interview helps you build a rapport with patients, while also giving you valuable insights into their motivations.

Knowing what's most important to them will help you tailor education and treatment recommendations, which will ultimately get more patients to accept the treatment you know they need.

Sally McKenzie is the CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service dental practice management company. Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2019

To read this and get access to all of the exclusive content on create a free account or sign-in now.

Member Sign In:
MemberID or email address:  
Do you have a password?
No, I want a free membership.
Yes, I have a password:  
Forgot your password?
Sign in using your social networking account:
Sign in using your social networking