by Lori Garland Parker, RDAEF, BS, MAOM

How the clinical team can play a role in practice promotion

One of the greatest keys to a successful orthodontic practice is quality customer service. One of the greatest avenues to achieving this goal is to be aware of the impact customer service has on your practice, then educating each team member on his or her role in promotion. We commonly hear lectures and read articles focusing on the promotional responsibilities of the new-patient coordinator, or the marketing coordinator. This article focuses instead on the clinical team’s role in practice promotion, and includes pearls from myself, Lori Garland Parker, and three other internationally known orthodontic consultants: Carol Eaton, Rosemary Bray, and Debbie Best.

Carol Eaton

“Clinical assistants work with patients on a day-to-day basis, and although the new-patient coordinators get the patient and parent excited about the practice and orthodontic treatment, it is the clinical team who has the responsibility of keeping the patients happy throughout treatment. Who keeps the patients motivated? Who updates the parents on their child’s treatment? Who can most effectively turn patients into referrals? In most cases, the answer is the clinical staff.”

Pearl 1: Connect with patients. In addition to making sure that each clinician is giving the same message with patient instructions, invest time in learning about teenage motivation and how to encourage patient cooperation on an individual basis. Talking with teens can be anything from an adventure to an agonizing effort. Learning more about them and their interests (and vocabulary) can ultimately aid your ability to talk with them, not at them.

Pearl 2: Update the parent on treatment progress. After each appointment, be sure to inform the parent on what treatment was performed that day, what is anticipated for the next visit, and if treatment is on schedule and why. Be sure to provide encouragement and support.

“Today, Mrs Jones, Dr Straighteeth gave John elastics to wear. For his teeth to move properly, John will need to wear them full-time and change them at least twice per day to get his bite in exactly the right position. Here are the written instructions John received verbally today to help both of you to remember what we talked about. Mrs Jones, do you have any questions regarding John’s treatment? How about you, John? OK, I know you will do a great job with your elastics! We look forward to seeing you in about 6 weeks to show you your progress! Have fun on vacation next week!”

Pearl 3: Use positive and proactive verbal skills to encourage a sibling or parent to start treatment. “Mrs Smith, you have been coming here with Joe for several months now, and we have noticed the space between your front teeth. Dr Jones would be happy to take a look today and chat with you about your options of closing that space, should that be something you are interested in doing. We offer a fee courtesy for family members who begin treatment with us.”

Rosemary Bray

“The clinical team members have a great opportunity and an important responsibility to promote the practice and make the difference in a patient’s life with every encounter. It might be the treatment coordinator and doctor who together get them to say yes, but it is the clinical team who keeps them there. What you say, how you say it, that look in your eye, the use of the patient’s name, they all combine to make people feel special—and when they feel that way, they are inclined to come back for more of the same.”

Pearl 1: Promote the orthodontist, team, and clinical technology at every opportunity. Talk about the orthodontist and team’s commitment to continuing education. Make patients aware of the extensive clinical knowledge the clinicians have, which makes them qualified to work in the mouth. This instills confidence in the patient and parent in their choice of who will give them a smile for life. Let patients know that you use wires with special metals that have their roots in the space program. Educate them on how the latest designs of brackets and wires speed treatment and make the process more comfortable.

Pearl 2: Implement an incentive program to encourage cooperation, and be consistent with it. In Michael LeBouf’s book, How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, he talks about the Psych 1 Principle: “What gets rewarded gets repeated.” In other words, reward the behavior you want to see repeated, such as keeping appointments, brushing well, and preventing breakage. Tokens, a drawing, or the like are incentives for patients to be more compliant and follow directions.

Pearl 3: Make it personal and fun. The culmination of treatment is when patients not only get their braces off, but are honored for this achievement. Giving them a “goodie bag” with all the sticky, gooey candy they weren’t permitted to eat during treatment (with a new toothbrush, of course), a photo of their beautiful new smile, and a debanding diploma adds to their excitement. Mailing a personal congratulations card to the patient, having the patient write a thank you to the parent(s), and having their picture on the smile board all combine to let the patient and others know of the graduation. Take the time to stomp your feet, clap your hands, and sing. This has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with enthusiasm.

Debbie Best

“The clinical team spends more hours with patients than any other team members in an orthodontic office. Take the time to remember personal facts about your patients, celebrate their successes, give them a warm pat on the back when they need an extra boost. Because of the one-on-one time the clinical team spends with patients, they have the opportunity to make every patient feel special. Patients who walk out of your office with a smile on their face and share it with their friends and family will promote your practice.”

Pearl 1: Celebrate patients’ banding day. The day patients have their appliances placed is their first step toward a beautiful smile that will last them a lifetime. Make the initial banding day a celebration by giving the patient a T-shirt that he or she can wear to school. Consider singing a banding song or giving the patient a bag of “safe” goodies that can be enjoyed while wearing orthodontic appliances. Don’t wait until the deband day to have fun with patients; start at the initial appointment. The day the patients get their braces on is the day they most need positive encouragement.

Pearl 2: Patient-information forms should reflect your image. The printed instructions you give your patients are a reflection of your practice. Take the time to carefully read over all instructions to ensure that they are accurate, easy to understand, free from typos, and legible. Toner lines from a copier, crooked copies, and forms with incorrect information are not acceptable. Remember, your practice is judged on what goes out of your office as well as how you perform in the office.

Pearl 3: Have clinical assistants schedule patients in the clinic. With computerized treatment cards and computers in the clinic, scheduling by the clinical assistant has helped to streamline the flow of patients in the orthodontic office. The clinical assistant is able to reinforce the importance and value of the next appointment to the patient and parent, since she assisted the orthodontist directly. There is decreased chance of a breakdown in communication because the patient is not transferred between the clinic and the front office to schedule the next appointment. The patient still picks up the appointment slip at the front desk to allow contact to be made in case money is owed.

Lori Garland Parker

“Too frequently, new-employee training focuses primarily on clinical tasks, such as properly tying in an archwire, fitting bands promptly and correctly, and taking impressions quickly and accurately. Many times, assistants are sent out to the clinic without a clear understanding of what it takes to create happy patients and parents who actively promote your practice. Granted, the vast majority of clinical staff members are very polite and courteous. Effective practice promotion, however, goes beyond being gracious. It is also about embracing the importance of customer service and effective promotion, learning the necessary skills, and being consistent.”

Pearl 1: Include customer-service and communication training as a specific part of new-employee orientation and training. Have all employees read customer-service books to instill a deep appreciation for satisfied patients and parents. Hold team meetings to discuss the relevancy to your orthodontic practice. Employees get the message right away on the importance and priority of service strategy in his office.

During monthly training sessions, include role-play exercises in which individuals can practice appropriate responses to scenarios that might occur in the practice. For example, what is an appropriate way for a clinician in your office to respond to a patient who presents with a loose bracket that “fell off when brushing”? What about patients who have poor oral hygiene?

Pearl 2: Demonstrate your commitment to patient protection and cleanliness. Patients and parents are more aware than ever about sterilization and cross-contamination issues, and want to be assured that treatment is safe in your practice. Demonstrate your adherence to OSHA and CDC guidelines. Show off your sterilization area and delivery systems. Avoid reaching into drawers after beginning work on a patient, and be sure to remove gloves prior to handling charts or typing patient notes. Keep counters and all work areas clean and neat. Keep as much as possible out of sight, and regularly perform the “white-glove test.” Check for wires on the floor or ties baked onto instruments. Are the carpets spot-free and the windows/window treatments clean?

Pearl 3: Promote each other. Patients and parents want to know that you have trust and respect for one another. Have pictures of the team hanging around the office, perhaps showing them performing some community service or attending a continuing-education seminar toge-ther. And if patients have to wait a few minutes, use the time to tell them about exciting upcoming events in the practice.

A sound patient-relations program, blended with the delivery of high-quality orthodontic care, is the foundation for an enjoyable and successful orthodontic practice. These are just a few of the areas to consider when you develop your practice-promotion program for the clinical area. At your next team meeting, consider evaluating your current development in the above areas, then see what additional ideas you have to add to your plan. What Michael LeBoeuf wrote almost 20 years ago is still true: “A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of them all.”

Lori Garland Parker is a clinical consultant and co-owner of Consulting Network, a practice-management consulting group. She has developed several tools to promote highly skilled teams, including a customizable clinical training and procedures manual, a performance review system, and a train the trainer program. She can be contacted at (805) 552-9512 or