A Practical Guide to Creating an Exceptional Patient Experience
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
Patient experience is often less about the obvious and more about the details and realities in the margins. What’s truly “seen” makes all the difference.
Your dental practice operations are judged on two perspectives:
2. A customer service perspective.
Patient experience happens when your business goals and customer service intersect. When those perspectives align, your patient experience (according to Thoreau) will truly be “seen.”
Service satisfaction relies on the experience your patients have just as much as the cost of those services. The patient experience is a combination of your services, your team, perception of dentistry in general, and ultimately their loyalty to your clinic.
Let's Look at What Goes into the Patient Experience
Practically speaking, the patient experience is a journey along each impression a patient has with your brand.
- Their first impression via your website.
- Their appointment scheduling encounters.
- Their in-clinic experience.
- Their treatment and procedural experience - including post-care follow-up.
- Their interaction with your team around billing and insurance.
Every impression is interconnected and helps form the feelings about being your patient (or not).
Let’s get even more specific about what patient experience includes:
- Arrival and parking.
- Entry and reception theming.
- Front desk interactions.
- Reception area amenities.
Each of these and more accomplish the goal of putting a patient at ease and elevating the value of your services to their health.
If you’re curious about how to accomplish this goal, there are four strategies you can implement now.
1. Adapt to Their Expectations
It’s like that familiar notion of “walking in their shoes.” Patient experience starts with an understanding of what they expect upon arrival and throughout their time in your clinic.
A patient’s expectation might not always match your passion for their oral health, as it’s most likely their pain, problem, or personal health priorities that will drive them to your clinic.
Expectation management requires:
- Consistent communication about health and treatment alongside their related personal goals.
- Positive engagement involving compelling conversation about their care without being “pushy” or “salesy”.
2. Create a Vibe
When you know what a patient expects you can craft an environment that embraces their needs and desires. Think of it like a “vibe” or “tone” that’s emotionally sensitive to their perception about dentistry.
It’s no secret that people have strong opinions one way or another about dentistry - or any medical encounter. You can create an uncommon experience that creates or alters their perception.
Think of your “vibe” like setting a new benchmark that other practitioners and clinics will be compared with.
3. Engage Them from Moment One
You know that phrase - “you get one opportunity to make a first impression?” Do that!
Engagement begins before a patient schedules or even arrives at your facility. But your facility’s ROI relies on good first impression strategies - be on time for their appointment, make sure your scrubs or professional attire are neat and tidy, smile and be approachable, be courteous and attentive to your patient’s needs.
It may seem obvious, but it’s always a good idea to reflect on yourself and how you present your knowledge, attire, and attitude to your patients to make sure you are giving the best first impression possible.
4. Educate and Inform
Facilities and technology are more relevant to the patient experience when you consistently communicate their practical benefits. Educate your patients routinely via online communication (e.g. blog posts, email, social media, etc), surveys, and a general commitment to being informative.
For a deeper dive, check out this resource: What is Patient Experience and Why Does It Matter?
Now, it’s essential to see the impact of patient experience on your revenue stream.
You really can put a price or dollar value on patient experience. It begins with how you track the results of your patient interactions - including those routine conversations.
“84% of companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in their revenue.” 
Patients move through various phases in their experience with your clinic.
- Initial phone or online conversations.
- Interactions with your front desk and reception area.
- Hand-offs between team members.
- Interactions with you as their care provider.
These ongoing interactions are the beginning phases of value-based results. No interaction is too small or insignificant to the patient experience!
Start with Culture Design that Revolves Around Patient Experience
Monitor and measure everything. Patient interactions should reflect compassion, a commitment to service, and transparency.
Be equally transparent with your team based on what your patients tell you via reviews, surveys, and verbal feedback.
Maintain an Openness to Change
Trends evolve in healthcare. It’s vital that your patient experience stays aligned as well if you desire revenue growth.
- Embrace and use new technology.
- Think beyond traditional care models.
- Engage patients around their opinions.
- Be open to feedback and the change it prompts.
Watch and listen for “keywords” patients share on social media and their ongoing communication with you.
Listen and Leverage What You Hear
Hone your “intuitive listening” skills by being more intentional in your patient interactions.
Intuitively listening to your patients could lead to more referrals, increased loyalty, and thus an increase in production revenue.
Keep in mind that there is patient experience “gold” not only in positive feedback but also negative feedback! It’s truly a matter of what you do with feedback that counts.
Turn Feedback into Strategy
This comes back to transparency. It speaks volumes to patients when you positively respond to positive as well as negative feedback. It helps by:
- Building credibility by giving the impression you have nothing to hide.
- Increased trust can lead to increased loyalty.
- Loyal patients improve patient experience.
It follows that where satisfaction goes revenue grows. Explore more about revenue growth with this content: How Patient Experience in Healthcare Impacts Revenue Growth
Speaking of satisfaction, let’s take a look at some specifics about that.
Is patient happiness measurable? It depends.
A deciding factor has much to do with the energy you invest to improve their satisfaction with the patient experience. Even so, it’s important that you don’t equate their happiness or satisfaction with what may or may not be in their health’s best interest.
Patients come with high expectations, and they’re not afraid to share their opinions.
A better investment in patient satisfaction might be a renewed emphasis for acquiring their loyalty. Patient satisfaction and patient loyalty tend to go hand-in-hand.
“73% of consumers say a good experience is key in influencing their brand loyalties.” 
Consider these steps that you can take to help assure your patients are (and continue to be) satisfied:
1. Engage Them Online.
- A well designed website.
- Useful resources.
- Easy to find contact info.
2. Communicate Comfort and Reassurance in Each Interaction.
- Welcoming staff.
- A calming demeanor.
- Good listening skills.
3. Accommodate Them with Scheduling.
- Evening hours.
- Weekend appointments.
- Remote online consultations.
4. Reduce Wait-time Perception Through Your Environmental Experience.
- Free WIFI.
- Complimentary snacks and beverages.
- Video games and entertainment for kids.
5. Use Welcoming Decor to Create a Calming/Welcoming Atmosphere.
- Fun, themed decor for kids
- Comfortable, pleasant decor for adults.
6. Create Patient Empowerment Through Education.
- Informative blogs.
- Educational enewsletter.
- Take home pamphlets.
7. Build Long-term Patient Relationships.
- Recognize birthdays, milestones, or personal challenges to build a deeper connection.
Each of these steps matter to your patient experience. Take an in-depth look with this resource: How to Improve Patient Satisfaction in 7 Steps
We’ve touched on design a bit throughout our discussion, which also contributes to your patient experience.
With that thought in mind…
Your general office ambiance is a good place to start when considering how design affects the patient experience, but there are more layers to strategic design.
The patient experience is about appealing to the conscious and the subconscious. Recall that we earlier noted that it’s more about what’s “seen” than what’s being observed.
Your design should be visually stimulating, emotionally appealing, and fit the overall patient experience with your clinic.
Design that creates a consistent patient experience will involve some core strategies.
Make it Functional
There’s a flow that promotes efficiency and engagement throughout your clinic. Keep in mind that the flow might not be evident to your patients as much as it is your team.
Architecture, ergonomics, and space maximization are the areas of function that you would want to emphasize.
Think about providing a variety of seating options to fit families or single visitors, or how ceiling height affects the way people experience a space. Every detail matters.
Be Comfortable and Ergonomic
Your team is the primary recipient of the ergonomic details. The payoff is their ability to provide a better patient experience because they’re more comfortable (and healthy) doing their work.
Comfort, of course, has strong value to your patients. That combined with an ergonomically equipped space will enhance the overall experience your patients have. If you and your staff are comfortable and can move freely throughout the workspace without bumping into equipment or stretching in pain, your patients will feel comfortable and at ease.
Trust the Experts
This is where your clinical expertise blends with aesthetic expertise. Are you going for a spa-like experience, greenery and plants to bring life to a space, fun for kids and families, or urban and industrial? Draw inspiration for the area you're in and the type of clients you service. It’s tempting to go DIY (Do-It-Yourself) on occasion, but investing in those skilled at design will boast a bigger payoff than DIY.
Expert designers are skilled at matching your unique culture with design specifics. They have the tools, technology, and vendor access to provide the “heavy-lifting” so you can stay focused on your patient care.
An investment of your design-dollars in a snazzy front-entry is a great idea. It’s also vital that you carry that intentional energy throughout your entire facility, so be sure not to forget about restrooms, hallways, and of course dental operatory spaces. Your overall style and theme should feel planned and weave its way throughout the entire patient visit.
Before you decide which route is best for you, check out this article for more inspiration: How to Create a Dental Design Strategy That Enhances Patient Experience
Now, let’s explore how marketing and patient acquisition flow into your patient experience.
Have a pediatric office? Get great design ideas to help improve the experience of your young patients with inspiring ideas in this free design resource from IDS.
Lifelong patient relationships rely on a series of good, positive experiences with your clinic. Think of it like a journey through an intentionally optimized environment.
Your staff culture, your care standards, your services, and insurance acceptance all have an impact on the patient experience.
Your office design will also enhance or diminish that vital impression you desire to make on your patients.
Patient acquisition costs can add up to hundreds of dollars or more. How responsive a particular patient is to your office in general, your services, and your marketing will determine your total investment.
Then there’s the competition to deal with too. Competitive ads, promotions, and online search results can add to the acquisition mix.
It comes down to the patient’s choice - and you being the compelling option when it’s time to call a provider.
Consider Your Environment
Patient acquisition is often the result of the “vibe” or culture you create. Essentially, it’s being aware of how your patients feel when they arrive at your clinic and their experience throughout their appointment. Patients are influenced by these questions:
- Will it be a stressful experience?
- Will I feel safe?
- Can I trust the recommendations I receive?
- Was I satisfied with the overall appointment?
Each of these align in some way with your design strategy. Try and find environmental solutions to these questions:
- Make the check in process as easy as possible with a prominent front desk and clear signage.
- Provide a welcome station with coffee.
- Display any academic achievements to show off proof of your knowledge and skills.
5 Details that Influence Patient Acquisition:
1. Design Details Throughout Your Office
Everything matters from curb to chair, so keep in mind that one scheduled appointment doesn’t guarantee another.
Make sure design doesn’t get in the way of their care decisions.
2. Set a Mood from the Moment They Arrive
Your entry space is a leverage point. Design for a feel that’s welcoming, inviting, comfortable, and puts your patients at ease.
3. Pay Attention to Relationship Development
Every patient interaction or conversation is an opportunity to deepen your relationship with them. And your top related skill: listening!
Design your clinic to maximize communication and all point-to-point conversations throughout.
4. Leverage Your Knowledge on Your Patient’s Behalf
Inform your patients about the “why” as much (or more) than you do the “what.” It’s easy to diagnose the issue while leaving their emotional response hanging in the wind.
Give them air to embrace the treatment you’re recommending. A good way to do that is listening (intuitively) to their related questions and concerns.
Inform them and allow them to ask questions without judgement.
5. Be “Next” Focused
Patient acquisition is only the beginning. The relationship that emerges from a positive patient experience is the ultimate goal.
Acquiring patients is one part environment and one part relational. Optimize around each and you’re more likely to succeed at the acquisition phase.
This resource can help further with that: Important Details for Optimizing Your Office for Patient Acquisition
All acquisition starts somewhere. That somewhere is most often a marketing initiative or strategy.
You’re probably convinced (and you should be) that you have an amazing office from design to overall experience. Marketing your practice with the patient experience in mind is a strategic decision.
Here’s a Quick “Marketing 101” Review:
Have an eye-catching logo - a symbol used to represent your business. A themed logo creates an instant connection between your printed identity and your physical office.
Establish a marketing identity - your logo, business cards, website, and even the style of your social media posts. Be consistent with your design; use the same style of fonts, the same colors, and include your logo on everything.
Generate a “feeling” with your brand - this is what patients think and feel when they hear your name. Express it across all communication channels such print, web, and social media.
Build Your Brand Around a Good Patient Experience
With those definitions in mind, patient experience is apart of the ’brand’ part of your marketing plan. You want to generate a “feeling” with your brand, and of course you want this to be positive, and a good experience helps strengthen your brand for the better. Patient experience was twice as important in healthcare industries compared to customer experience in other industries for consumer purchasing attitudes.
When it comes to marketing, you must consider what excites your patients and invokes a positive feeling. An inviting environment, the latest technology, great reviews? Use your marketing to educate your patients and empower them. Generate useful content that answers patient questions. Utilize this content on all marketing channels - share good reviews, show off your latest equipment, and share informative articles on blogs, social, and your website. This is how you create a brand around good patient experiences.
Take a look at this resource to expand your marketing impact: How Theming Creates the Ultimate Brand for Your Business.
If you are interested in learning more about marketing your dental practice, check out Key Strategies to Jump-Start Your Dental Marketing.
Before wrapping up let’s explore a few specifics of the pediatric patient experience. This is where theming pays in big ways.
Access more comprehensive dental marketing strategies. Download the free Marketing e-Book now!
Comfort and security aren’t just for adults. Children want it too! Those two desires set the bar high for establishing and improving the patient experience in your pediatric practice.
Where kids are involved there are two challenges you’ll face in designing a kid-friendly patient experience:
1. Their Behavior
2. Their General Fears
That’s why your pediatric dental patient experience must have clear goals. Your goals should be to:
Children arrive at your facility believing it’s all about their mouth, teeth, and gums. Put them at ease by redirecting their attention in the first moments of arrival.
- Start conversations around something personal to them (shoes, color of clothing, etc).
- Involve their parent or other accompanying adult in the conversation.
Reduce the Fear of the Unknown by ”Introducing Them” to Your Technology and Equipment
By giving fun names to each item you’ll use, it will help eliminate some of your patients’ anxiety from the unknown. Give them the space to ask questions about your clinic equipment.
Create Trust with No-Surprises Communication
Kids like show-and-tell games, so give them a demonstration about how a particular device works. Use language they can understand and that’s non-threatening.
Create a Kid-Themed, Kid-Friendly Environment
Attention to design details sets the tone from the moment a child and their family arrives. Hands-on amenities help them feel at home and relaxed about their appointment.
See Yourself as a Dental “Therapist”
Dentistry is your core skill, but some behavioral capacity added in will help you handle those potentially challenging moments with kids. Implementing these small acts will make noticeable difference in appointment success:
- Eye-to-eye conversation will help you be on their level.
- Be conversational, not clinical.
- Get to know them - their interests, sports, hobbies, etc.
Be Aware of What Can Cause a Negative Experience in Children
Create a good patient experience by knowing what causes a bad one and try to prevent those fears and negative feelings from happening in the first place. The next page has a handy chart with the big anxieities that pediatirc patients face when they visit the dentist.
Check out this comprehensive resource to up your design game in your pediatric dental clinic: 5 Goals for Improving Patient Experience in Your Pediatric Dental Practice
As you know, a goal needs specific strategies. Keep in mind that the improvements you can make in your pediatric dental patient experience can also apply to a pediatric medical clinic.
The following resource is similarly aligned with that goal: 5 Ways to Improve Pediatric Patient Experience in Your Medical Clinic
Your overall “vibe,” culture, intentional design, marketing, and (if applicable) kid-centric theming form the foundation of patient experience. Each add up to an investment that will create strong returns.
Bottom-line: your patient experience leads to patient loyalty. A patients-for-life mindset drives positive engagement, referrals and revenue for your clinic.
Download a PDF copy of Dental Patient Experience Guide now!