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Communicating clinical quality

3 strategies to enhance patient confidence in your practice
Woman in a dental chair holding her hands in the shape of a heart

Patients appreciate high-quality products and services, as do we all. We will choose superior goods and services and often pay more for them if we can find them. But spotting excellence is very difficult, especially when we aren’t familiar with the product or service. The more our dental practices can make the quality of our treatment and customer service visible, the stronger the bond we will build with our patients.

If we study what makes us believe in the superiority of companies we choose for other products and services, we can begin to create the same atmosphere in our dental practice.

Start with high-quality care from the entire staff

Certain clinical performance measures have to be a given as we analyze how to show our quality to our patients. First and most important, we must create an atmosphere of quality in the practice. From the dentist on down, every member of the team must strive to provide the highest quality dental care. 

If the dentist compromises quality through poor diagnosis and making quality decisions or product choices based more on cost than performance and makes no effort to keep improving, then the measurable quality of the entire office is jeopardized. The dentist and team members begin with acceptable clinical performance and can be inspired to climb as high as their skills will take them.

What do patients see?

Once the clinical quality of dental care is secure within the walls of the office, the goal is to make it visible to every patient who comes in contact with the office. Patients usually aren’t dentists. Like consumers everywhere, they have limited knowledge about what they are buying. But they are desperate not to be taken advantage of. They search for what they can use to help them make a decision regarding superior care. They can’t look at the details of dental treatment, but they can find signs to verify their choice of practitioners. If they find enough signs, they will become glued to the practice and ambassadors for the practice.

First, the dentist needs to come to an understanding of what he or she can and can not do. There can be a temptation to keep dentistry in house rather than refer it to a specialist. But, if patients suspect the dentist is in over his or her head or team members see the dentist trying to perform treatment that is not in the patient’s best interest, the message may soon spread to the community. Instead, a quality oriented practice strives to provide the best care possible, which includes referring patients to specialists who bring extra skill sets to difficult cases. The secret is to build a team of specialists who seem part of your practice and work closely with you to impress the patients. Effective communication going both directions is a must, and the general dentist and the specialist should discuss the standard of care available through this relationship to help the patient gain confidence.

Second, patients need to see that the practice is continually improving. The best way to get that message across is to tell them. A regular newsletter is a valuable way to give patients updates on the dentist’s and team members’ continuing studies. Just as you want your own physician to be up on the latest medical procedures and pharmaceuticals, patients have the same concerns about you as their dentist. They can see that you participate in continuing education, the course material and the frequency of learning. You can list all CE courses you and your staff attend, as well as discuss new techniques, products and equipment. Make sure your team understands the value of every advancement. Much of the communication about the practice happens outside the office: at dinner, in line at the supermarket and among friends. The better informed your team members are, the better they can extoll the mission of quality your practice embraces and are empowered to report on the courses they’ve taken to add value to the practice.

Third, the dentist and team members need to understand that patients are not buying the products, equipment and techniques; they are buying the service these items are used for as well as competence, trust, efficiency and expertise. They find these qualities in what they see, hear and feel. You don’t get into compact car and mistake it for a luxury vehicle. A dental practice needs to exude its dedication to quality from the parking lot to the operatory. Start at the street and note what you see and what it says about the practice. Is the building well taken care of and the parking clean and safe? Is the interior of the building up to date? When patients open the office door, does the waiting room reflect the quality to come? Is there a welcoming person there to greet patients? Go step by step through everything and everyone in the practice, evaluate the present condition and plan to make every aspect of the practice environment say “quality.” Patients will feel it, the team will express it, and the community will support it. 

Dr. van Dyk practices general dentistry in San Pablo, California, and teaches in the department of Dental Practice at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. He lectures throughout the US and Canada and is happy to expand on his message of surprising patient management. He can be reached at or at