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We are very fortunate as general dental practitioners, if we have toothache – and many of us have – it’s usually a matter of getting a friend/colleague to have a quick look at lunchtime. However, if this wasn’t the case what would we have to do to get help? Can you try to imagine having to start ringing round practices, whilst in pain and after a sleepless night. Maybe imagine having a serious accident and having to start ringing different ambulance services to find help because 999 didn’t exist, which is actually true in many countries as I once found out!
Next, imagine how it would feel if the first response to your plea for help is a question from a receptionist: "Are you registered with us?" Suddenly panic sets in because you are being made aware that help is not automatic. Not only that, but the question conveys the impression that the person dealing with your call does not actually care about your predicament.
Now compare that response to: “ I’m so sorry about that, let’s see if we can help you”. Which practice would you feel happy about going to even if both could actually fit you in?
Setting the right tone
Recently, the company ’Breathe Business‘ mystery shopped 10 private practices to see how the reception teams handled a telephone enquiry from a new patient with nagging toothache and, crucially, if they displayed empathy. Apparently, the results were not good.
Only one expressed concern and sympathy for the caller’s toothache, the others, without exception tried to simply 'process' the enquiry and, to quote their results: “as the caller was not a member of the practice, the processing bit was generally poor to diabolical”.
We are in the business of helping people and this should be evident from the first contact. The General Dental Council asks us to work in the ethos of a ‘person centred practice’ and this means dealing with people with empathy whilst respecting their dignity and needs. Even if you are too busy on that particular day, calls from people with problems should still be handled with empathy and in a caring way. There is a very simple practical reason for this – they will tell other people how uncaring you were! Training in how to achieve a caring approach to phone enquires will also set the tone for every member of the practice and reflect on the values you feel are important in guiding patients on their journey at any point in the practice.
It’s not who you know, it’s what you know!
Everyone is a potential patient, and you never know how much business one new patient will generate! Everyone has friends, relatives and colleagues who are potential patients. So ask yourself the question - what would you want them to hear about you and the way your practice deals with vulnerable people on the phone? It’s also a situation in which we can apply the ‘sister/mother test’ - how would you like your sister or mother to be treated if they are in need of help.
When choosing a new practice, people may not know you at all, but they may know something about you – let it be something good.
Dr John Shapter – QCS Expert Dental Contributor