One of my patients shared with me about a recent visit to a dental specialist who I had referred her child to for additional work. She talked about her initial negative impression of the office due to an unfriendly front office staff member who handled her scheduling and billing questions. She indicated that she didn’t have dental insurance and would be paying out of pocket at the time of the appointment and asked if she could get a cost estimate. This question was met with a disgruntled answer with a wide range estimate of what the appointment might cost her. Later, my patient called back to ask if they offered nitrous oxide if her child was overly anxious and might need it during the procedure, the receptionist’s answer was “Your insurance won’t cover it.” The patient didn’t have dental insurance and had never mentioned insurance coverage being an issue. The office did routinely offer nitrous oxide so a “yes” answer would have been easy to give. At the office, my patient had positive interactions with all but one of the staff members. While waiting for her child’s appointment, my patient listened to this particular staff member (the same one who had handled her phone calls) berate an adult patient who had a simple question about his bill.

The dental specialist and his assistants were all very kind, comforting and professional. The work was performed quickly and painlessly. My patient was thrilled with the results and with the doctor’s care for her child. However, she did indicate that the only reason she went ahead and kept this appointment and stayed in the waiting room while listening to the grumpy staff member berate patients was because of my positive endorsement of this specialist. She had considered finding a different specialist due to the extremely negative attitude of one of his employees. After seeing the specialist, she will be happy to refer him to other parents with the warning not to let a front office staff member scare them off.

I am sharing this particular story because it reminded me of how hard a dentist has to work to gain patient trust and how much harder this task is if just one staff member has a bad attitude with patients. Many patients come into the dental office with fear and unease. EVERY member of the dental team has to have setting the patient at ease as a primary goal. This is a great reminder of the need to take your time when hiring a new staff member, check references and give a trial period of employment. In a dentist’s busy day it’s hard to monitor all of the interactions your staff is having with patients, but you must be aware of the overall experience your employees are providing for your patients in order to build patient trust. At times, you must be willing to address issues that arise and move on to a new employee if necessary.