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1a. The Patient Experience: What it is and Why it Matters

Guidelines for Practice Success, Managing Patients
Managing Patients | Introduction
The Patient Experience: What it is and Why it Matters

Your ability to communicate with patients impacts their perception of your practice. Managing that perception is critical to providing patients with ethical, personalized, high-quality care that maintains, or improves, their oral health and their overall health and well-being. It’s also an important factor in developing and fostering a trusting relationship based on mutual respect that can last for decades.

The Patient Experience: What It Is and Why It Matters

The best way to understand the importance of your patients’ experience with your practice is to put yourself in their shoes. Consider these questions, not as a dentist, but as a patient:
  • What would you want and expect from your dentist?
  • What would you want and expect from the members of the dental team? 
  • What makes a dental visit a positive experience, even if the treatment or care provided involves discomfort?
  • What makes you willing to return to the same practice?
The answers to those questions can make a huge difference in your ability to develop positive relationships with your patients. When they are considered from both a personal and a business perspective, those answers can affect your no show, cancellation and case acceptance rates, patient referrals, and treatment plans.

Dental care has been driven by preventive and restorative treatment, and the foundation of every clinical procedure you recommend and perform is built on the relationship you’ve established with each patient. Like the team of dental professionals supporting you in providing care, your patients are part of your dental family. From the first phone call to the completion of the treatment plan, your ability to successfully communicate with patients will determine how effectively you meet their expectations. Good communication is the cornerstone of any successful practice.

The Managing Patients module of the American Dental Association’s Guidelines for Practice SuccessTM (GPSTM) details aspects of patient management via four major topics that offer a framework for handling some of the elements of communication that can make or break the patient experience.

Patient Intake

Phone Calls from Prospective Patients
Office Hours and Time Management
Reception Area and Office Décor
The Patient’s First Visit
Patient Registration and Forms
Touring the Practice
Meeting the Doctor


Financial: Payment Options, Insurance Handling
Informed Consent/Refusal
Specialty Referrals
Miscellaneous Policies

Treatment Recommendations

Case Presentations
Accepted Treatment
Emergency Treatment
Post Treatment
Recare Appointments
Documentation/Patient Records
Appointment Confirmations
Patient Satisfaction Surveys

Patient Relations

Refunds and Discounts
Peer Review
Special Considerations

The American Dental Association thanks the following individuals for their contributions to this module:

Dr. Joseph G. Unger, chair, Council on Dental Practice
Dr. Jean L. Creasey, Council on Dental Practice
Dr. J. Christopher Smith, Council on Dental Practice
Dr. Irene Marron-Tarrazzi, New Dentist Committee
Ms. Lois Banta
Ms. Denise S. Ciardello
Ms. Debra Engelhardt-Nash
Ms. Linda Harvey
Ms. Ginny Hegarty
Ms. Judy Kay Mausolf
Dr. Lillian Obucina
Ms. Christine Taxin
Dr. William van Dyk