You are not your patient — A guide to understanding what your patients value

March 11, 2019

One of the easiest traps for a dentist to fall into is to think your patients want what you want and like what you like. This mistake is easy to make when there is a poor understanding of who the patient is and what he or she values.

A recent practice scratch start was not going well. The doctor became quite exasperated because he could not understand why his patients weren’t scheduling for the dentistry he was diagnosing.

The question was, “What makes the doctor think they want the help he wants to give them?” The doctor knew the patient needed the services, but did they want them?

The doctor’s point of view does not necessarily align with how the patient views his or her situation. You should avoid telling people what they need and instead become a practitioner who understands the patient’s desires and then fulfills them. This is called lifestyle dentistry. It’s important to remember that patients are not just saying “yes” to treatment plans, but also to everything else along the way — the process of engagement, the smells in the reception room, office decor, the look of the parking lot. The experience should be congruent with the image the practice portrays. The patient is as important as the treatment plan, meaning their experience becomes as important as the clinical skills of the doctor.

Feelings are emotions

The truly happy patient feels a personal emotional connection with the office and with the doctor and staff. This means the staff has an important role to play in practice profitability. People naturally gravitate toward those who make them feel welcome and special.

Patients have many choices of which office to visit. The team must make the patient feel special by greeting them with a big smile, shaking their hands, remembering their name or recognizing their voice on the phone, recalling something from a past conversation, or asking how they’ve been since they were last in. One office in rural Minnesota always receives more referrals than any other, and patient surveys show this is because “they are always happy to see me!”


Unexpected gifts and extras have a very positive influence on patients.  Everyone, no matter who they are or how much money they have, loves getting a little something extra — especially when they do not expect it. These little “gifts” make a big difference when properly executed. They delight the patient and make them feel special and appreciated. They reinforce the patient’s belief that this is the perfect dentist. When chosen carefully, the right gift subliminally supports the image of the office that it is trying to project. The perfect gift is one that says you understand more about your patient than just their teeth.


When was the last time a business you dealt with sent you a thank you note or made a follow-up call to thank you for your patronage? Imagine how good it would feel if you had spent a particularly significant amount of money and if the note was handwritten on a nice card or stationery instead of a generic letter spewed out by a computer.

At a New Year’s Eve fundraiser for a local regional charity, the president of the local medical clinic explained to the guests seated at his table that they were able to double the size of their clinic because of a conversation he had with his personal dentist. He related that he had a difficult procedure done and his dentist called him at home that evening to see how he was doing. He was so impressed with that act of kindness that he required all of his doctors at the clinic to do the same. The result has been a huge increase in their business.

Flowers are an excellent way to express thanks, especially to female patients. Patients who receive a flower arrangement after a long procedure are excited and will tell their friends about it for weeks.

Do not be lured into taking the easy way out and giving a discount or some kind of freebie from the office as an expression of thanks. These gifts are self-serving and are usually recognized as such. Giving a $50 certificate applicable to their next visit is uninspiring and not meaningful. Please remember that an expression of thanks should make patients feel appreciative of the office for being the kind of office that really went out of the way to thank them for their patronage. The gift should communicate to the patient that they have been “heard.” Gift cards suggest a lack of thought as do items that look as if they were purchased in bulk or were given by a vendor.

Connect with patients with White & Associates

As your personal dental coaches, White & Associates is here to help you with the business side of your practice so you can focus on your patients. We have the business expertise, industry experience, and personal skills to increase profitability, reduce stress, motivate staff, and more. Contact us today to start making the most of your dental practice.