How Much Time Are Patients Wasting in Your Waiting Room?

February 21, 2018 Rieva Lesonsky

How much time do new dental patients spend sitting in your waiting room, filling out registration forms on a clipboard? According to a survey of dentists by the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, in 2016 a new patient at a dental practice waited an average of 7.1 minutes after arriving. Another study by the same organization found that pediatric dentists' new patients wait an average of 8.6 minutes after arrival.

Considering all the effort that goes into attracting new dental patients, you want their first visit to be a great experience. And in a culture where consumers expect fast, streamlined service from every business, any amount of time your patients spend waiting is too much.

Of course, new patient registration paperwork is critically important. It tells your staff about the patient's medical history, current medication and other vital information dentists need to know before an exam or procedure. But there are ways to cut down on the time needed for filling out that onerous registration paperwork. Here are some ideas.

Encourage patients to pre-register ahead of time. As much as possible, try to get new patients to complete registration paperwork before arriving at your office. Once you have made their appointment, direct them to your website where they can download, print and complete registration and dental history forms. You can even provide editable PDF forms they can fill out and email back to you. This eliminates the need for printing, as well as the risk that the patient will complete the forms and forget to bring them in to the appointment.

Send a dental appointment confirmation. If new patients arrive late for their appointments, it adds even more wait time to their visit. Use Lighthouse 360 to automatically remind patients about upcoming appointments so they can be sure to be prompt. You can email, text or make automated phone calls to patients with dental appointment reminders, and get confirmations so you know they got the message. You can also use Lighthouse 360 to email your new patients with reminders to complete the registration form before they arrive (include a link to the registration form in the email).

Promote the benefits of registering early. Filling out a registration form for a dental visit a month away is not a high priority for most people. You'll need to do some nudging to get patients to pre-register. To do so, emphasize the benefit to them rather than to you: They'll spend less time in the waiting room if they register ahead of time. (Of course, when patients do preregister, it's important to see them right away.)

Be ready to help. Everyone on your front desk staff should be familiar with your registration and medical history forms, and prepared with answers to common questions that patients have about these documents. If there are areas of your registration form that frequently confuse patients, point them out and explain them ahead of time, or put explanations on your website along with the forms. You can also speed up the process by highlighting areas of the form that are required as opposed to any that are optional.

Now more than ever, dentists need to take into consideration all aspects of the patient experience. Doing everything you can to speed up new patient registration will make your patients' experience a better one — and that makes your dental practice more competitive.


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