Sally McKenzie, CEO
McKenzie Management
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5 Reasons Why Emergency Patients Arenít Becoming Loyal Patients
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

Even though most dentists don’t view them this way, emergency patients represent a huge opportunity for growth. Not only can they become loyal patients who accept treatment, they might even refer your practice to family and friends – further boosting practice production and your bottom line.

Unfortunately, dentists and their team members often view emergency patients as a disruption to their day and a bit of a nuisance, so they don’t spend much time educating them about the value of dental care. Sure, they do their best to alleviate their pain, but they also get them out of the chair as fast as possible so they can get back to their day. These are usually one-time visits, after all, so there’s no point in trying to build a relationship or explaining how the services you provide can help them meet their oral health goals.

The truth is, you should be converting 80% of the emergency patients you see into comprehensive exams. Just think about what that could do for your practice. Seem impossible? It’s not. To get there, determine why emergency patients aren’t becoming loyal patients, and then implement the changes that will make them want to return. I’ll help you get started. Here are 5 reasons you never see emergency patients again. 

1. There isn’t a script for team members to follow. When emergency patients call, they’re typically in panic mode. They’re scared and in pain, and are hoping your practice can help them. Team members should be trained to properly handle these calls, which doesn’t include sighing and saying that even though the doctor is busy, he’ll do his best to work them in, and that payment is due upfront. That’s not exactly comforting and doesn’t give these patients a good first impression of your practice.

I suggest you develop scripts for team members to follow when an emergency patient calls. They should greet these patients with a warm welcome and assure them the doctor will do his best to get them out of pain as quickly as possible. Never make them feel like they’re bothering you. Put these patients at ease and they’ll feel a connection to your practice before they even walk through the door.

2. You don’t show them the value of dentistry. Most dentists are so focused on getting these patients in and out, they don’t take the time to educate them about their condition or the importance of maintaining their oral health. If you focus on education, you’ll start building a foundation with these patients – making them more likely to come back for a comprehensive exam.

Ask about their dental health goals and concerns, and find out why they haven’t seen the dentist in so long. It could be because they had a bad experience in the past or because they didn’t think they could afford it. No matter the reason, tailor your education to address their fears and let them know how your practice can help them reach optimal oral health. Make them understand they shouldn’t wait until they’re in an emergency situation to visit a dentist, and remind them why they need to come in for routine appointments.

3. Emergencies aren’t part of your plan. You know you’re going to get calls for emergencies, but you probably don’t have slots in your schedule for these patients. That means it’s going to be difficult for your Scheduling Coordinator to fit them in, adding stress to his or her day. Keep a certain number of slots open for emergencies and it will be much easier for your coordinator to get them on the schedule.

I also suggest you reserve time for emergency patients who are ready to schedule a comprehensive exam before they leave. You’ll want to get these patients back in while their memory of the experience is still fresh, which is no more than a week after their visit.

4. They’re just not comfortable. Remember, emergency patients are scared. They don’t like coming to the dentist in the first place, and now they’re forced to go to an unfamiliar practice with a dentist and team they don’t know much about. If team members are short with them or seem distracted, it’s just going to add to their anxiety.

Your team should take extra care to make these patients as comfortable as possible. They should offer to help fill out paperwork and have them wait in a private consultation room for their appointment. They should be friendly and helpful, and reassure these nervous patients they’re in good hands.

5. You don’t check on them. Show patients you care by following up with a phone call after their visit. Ask them how they’re doing and thank them for choosing your practice. Mail them information about the services you provide, complete with a personalized, handwritten note. If they haven’t already scheduled a comprehensive exam with your practice, this might prompt them to do so.

If you’re not converting emergency patients into loyal patients, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for practice growth. Make the necessary adjustments, and more of these patients will turn into loyal patients who call your practice their dental home.

Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a nationwide dental management, practice development and educational consulting firm providing knowledge, guidance and personalized solutions that have propelled thousands of general and specialty practices to realize their potential.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at or call 1.877.777.6151.

Interested in having McKenzie Management Seminars speak to your dental society or study club? Click here

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