Your Phones: A “Joy!” or an “Ouch?”

Rhonda R. Savage, DDS

How do we get the patient on board with the dentistry they deserve? First, you’ve got to get them in the door!

The emotional side of the patient says, “I know I should do this, but I don’t want to….spend the money or go through the discomfort.” Learning and reviewing phone verbal skills that influence and persuade ARE important. Patients know how important the treatment is intellectually, but that’s not all they need.

The patient needs to know how much the dentistry matters to him or herself. To get the patient to listen, we need to develop the relationship. Here are tips on how to accomplish this:

  1. The new patient call begins with a great phone voice. Your voice should be warm, caring, empathetic, intelligent and relaxed. It’s difficult to do this in a busy office. Have a signal ready that demonstrates you’re working with a new patient; a folded yellow card that says “ON Call” is a good visual.

For training purposes, let’s list what we’re looking for in the call:

  1. Get the patient’s name and use it all the way thru the call.
  2. Ask how the patient heard about the practice: You need to track your ROI (return on investment) for your marketing efforts
  3. Reassure the patient that this is a great place to be; they’ve made the right choice 4. Talk up the doctor; be confident about his or her credentials.
  4. Express empathy: ask questions and show concern
  5. Ask about dental and health concerns
  6. Talk about the value of the appointment before you talk about money
  7. Then talk about money or insurance: don’t trap the dentist with a specific quote as we don’t know the patient’s exact needs over the phone.
  8. Get the patient’s contact information
  9. Offer an appointment: I have 8 am Monday or 2 pm on Tuesday; which of these would work for you? We need to guide and direct the patients. (Don’t say: “Would you like to schedule…”)
  10. Follow up with the patient that didn’t appoint in 24-48 hours to see that their needs were taken care of.

This list is meant to be a summary. Conversations flow and should feel natural. With all scripting, the person taking the call should internalize the components listed about and make “their script” feel completely natural. Patients do not like to be ‘scripted.’ To be scripted means ‘to be sold.’ Here’s the “script” in action:

The name: “Thanks for calling, Mrs. Parker!

How they found you: How did you hear about our practice? Oh, Mr. Bell is a wonderful patient. How do you know him?

Reassure: “You know, Mrs. Parker, I do understand how hard it is to choose a new dentist and I just want to let you know you’ve chosen the right practice to call! Dr. Posada is a wonderful dentist. He’s so kind and caring; I’m sure you’ll really enjoy meeting him. He’s been practicing now for 14 years. He loves helping patients with their needs; he’s also really active at the dental school and volunteers a lot in the community.”

Value: “About your appointment, if you have just a moment, I’d like to let you know what to expect at the first appointment. We’ll gather any necessary x-rays, talk to you about your health history and the doctor will do a thorough exam. He’ll look at all your teeth and also your gums. Your gum health is very important. You’ve probably seen on the news lately that the health of your gums is related to the health of your entire body, especially your heart.”

Dental Concerns: “Do you have any gum related concerns? When was your last cleaning?”

Reassure the patient, especially if they express fear: “It’s been difficult for you to have dentistry in the past? Not to worry, Mrs. Parker, the doctor is the best! Many of our patients feel just as you do! He’s so gentle!” (If your office offers different forms of sedation, be prepared to address the patient’s questions with scripting from your doctor)

“Do you have any health concerns we need to be aware of?”

“Mrs. Parker, do you have dental benefit coverage that we should know about? Yes, we do work with your plan; we have a lot of patients who have your plan that choose to come here. You do have a deductable and your fee for the day will be $75.00.” (If you need payment at the time of service)

“Will that be ok for you?”

Give the patient the ‘out’ if it’s not ok for the patient financially. Be clear about financial obligations so you do not surprise the patient at the appointment time. There are some that say, “Never talk about money over the phone!” Yet, money is one of the chief concerns of the patient. To surprise a patient is to lose a patient. A surprised patient turns into an embarrassed patient, who then becomes an angry patient.

(See below regarding the shopper patient and quoting a fee)

I’m really looking forward to meeting you, Mrs. Parker! We have a 1 pm opening this Wednesday or a 10 am next Monday. Would either of those times work for you? (The new patient should be seen within 7-10 business days. Create flexible time in the schedule to get the new patient in quickly.)

When the new patient arrives, stand up and warmly shake the patient’s hand. Smile and look the patient into their eyes. Demonstrate confidence by squaring your shoulders and having a straight posture. When shaking the patient’s hand, use the same level of pressure that the patient extends to you. Be careful with elderly patients or with a female patient; generally the hand shake is not as firm or strong. Say, “Mrs. Parker, it’s wonderful to meet you. I’m Sarah; I made your appointment.”

The shopper call is handled similarly as you did with the new patient. The shopper’s first initial phone question will be: “Do you accept my insurance?” Or: “Hi! I’m just calling around. I need a cap on my tooth and I don’t have insurance. How much is a cap in your office?”

Say, “Absolutely; I can help you with this. Could I get your name, please?”

Get the potential patient’s name and use it all the way through the conversation; follow the same scripting above.

Ask your doctor about how he or she wants these types of calls answered; be clear about the financial policies in your office. Have the financial policies in a written form and handy at the front desk. If you’re going to quote fees, I recommend you give the patient a range of fees, explaining that you can’t determine, over the phone, “the treatment that you deserve.”

If the patient is on a plan that you do not accept or must choose a dentist off a list (Medicaid, HMO or PPO plan), you’ll need to answer the patient’s question directly. Say, “Mr. Humphrey, are you free to choose your dentist? No, I’m sorry, we do not accept Medicaid reimbursement.” If your practice is in a heavily PPO/Medicaid area and you don’t accept a particular plan, ask this question near the beginning of the call.

“I only want my teeth cleaned!”

This is another entire article. In summary, you need current x-rays to protect the practice from malpractice as well as to deliver the care the patient deserves. For a handout on this topic, e-mail me at

“Is the doctor a “Preferred Provider?”

If the patient is covered by a plan that you do accept but you are not “on the list” as a PPO provider, then lead the patient forward by saying, “Mr. Humphrey, we do have many patients that come to us with your particular plan. Dr. Stevens is not a contracted provider for this plan, but the patients choose to see him because he provides all of his patients with the same high quality of care. He made a decision early in his practice that he wanted to provide the best materials, train his team and have up to date equipment so his patients could get the care they deserve. We are thankful that you have your plan as many of our patients don’t have benefit coverage. Your portion for the appointment will be (your fee or range of fees)
Will that be ok for you?”

The emergency patient:

Emergency patients are great practice builders. Plan to triage the patient; prepare the patient for the triage appointment on the phone. Your tone of voice should project empathy and concern. Ask about their symptoms. For all new patient contact and emergency contact, have a systematic way of gathering information: Use a contact form. Write down the patient’s concerns and communicate them to the back staff; this allows the entire office to look knowledgeable and professional.

“Carrie, we can get you in right away and look at your tooth. Can you tell me how you’ve been feeling? Is it hot or cold sensitive? Have you been kept awake at night from the pain? Is it bite sensitive? Is it sweet sensitive? Have you noticed any swelling? When did the swelling begin?”

“Carrie, we need to take an x-ray and have the doctor look at the tooth. I’m not certain we’ll be able to provide care today; it depends on what you need. We may need to make another appointment for you so you can have the time you deserve.”

“I have 10:30 or 2:15 today. Which time would work for you?” 2:15? Great! I have you down at 2:15. Our team will take really good care of you!”

“Carrie, we do accept reimbursement from your dental benefit plan; you’ll have your deductable to meet for the year. Your fee for today will be (your fee or range of fees)”

“Yes, I can help you with financial arrangements, Carrie. We do accept checks and also Visa, MasterCard and American Express. We also have a resource called CareCredit; we can make your treatment fit your time and your budget. You would need to take care of your non-insurance portion at the time of service. Will that be ok for you?”

With emergency patients, provide care only if you do not keep your regularly scheduled patients waiting and you have clearly defined, written payment arrangements!

People buy based on emotion and reason it out afterwards. To get your new patient in the door, you must connect with them emotionally, reason with them intellectually and make it easy by helping them make the appointment.

Phone skills and how we say things matter and are the first step to a great patient relationship.

“Talk to a man about himself and he will listen for hours.” Benjamin Disraeli