How do we keep our patients happy?

Susie Anderson Sharkey

That’s the $64,000 question as each individual’s needs and expectations will be different … and it’s our job to meet them


So many articles, even whole books, have been written on the wide-ranging subject of patient satisfaction that in this article I’m outlining just a couple of things I’ve learned from experience over the years.

No matter whether the patient is old or young, NHS or private, there are standards which are the same right across the board. There is a level of courteousness, efficiency and professionalism that is expected in the industry, whether that be from a dentist, hygienist, nurse or receptionist. 

The patient perspective won’t just begin when they walk through the door of the practice. They will have formed opinions even before they get there. If spoken to on the phone, was the receptionist polite? Was the receptionist able to answer any queries the patient may have had, and if not, did he/she ensure that they were put in contact with the person that could help them?
If a patient has been contacted by social media, how long did they have to wait for a reply? If by email, once again was it dealt with promptly?

Different people have different expectations but how do you go about ensuring that you exceed those expectations each and every time the patient is in the surgery? OK, so I think it’s fairly safe to say that there are some people, no matter how much you do for them, they will just never be happy. But thankfully those patients are few and far between, and by and large if we present an outstanding service, the patients will be outstandingly grateful. 

Firstly you must show genuine interest in your patient. They will soon pick up if all you’re interested in is getting them in and out of the door as fast as possible. A few moments of chat each visit, building rapport, building a relationship with the patient goes a long way in securing patient loyalty for years to come. Sometimes the patient just wants a few minutes to chat about what’s happening in their life, and if someone in the practice takes some time to lend a listening ear they will know that you genuinely care about them. May I quote that well used but very true saying “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. 

A few months ago I happened to be at the main reception desk when a patient came out from one of the surgeries and was about to pay a considerable amount of money. His phone rang and he had to take it, walked away from the desk, spoke to someone for a minute or two then came back to the desk absolutely choked up and hardly able to speak…his mother had just that moment died. I took him away from the reception desk, sat him in my office, made him a cup of tea and told him to take as long as he needed…the money could wait. 

What that man needed at that point was a bit of space to grieve, a quiet place to sit and take in the news that had just been delivered to him. He didn’t need us at that precise moment asking him to pay a substantial bill and make his next appointment. I gave him his tea, time and space to be on his own and then told him to get in touch with us later.

A little compassion goes a long way.

Secondly, we must listen. What is the patient really saying to us? It may not be what we expect them to say (or even want them to say), and it’s so important we don’t have pre-conceived ideas of what the patient thinks. And very often what the patient doesn’t say is as important as what they do say and without taking time to listen then we make assumptions that are way off the mark.

It’s important we don’t assume what they think. Very often what the patient doesn’t say is as important as what they do say

Susie Anderson Sharkey

Many years ago I had exceptional customer service and it’s my gold standard that I went back to time and again when I was practice manager. (I’ve recently stepped down as practice manager and am now working as a treatment co-ordinator).  

In my new role as treatment co-ordinator it is my aim to give every single patient as much time as they want or need. If they want to chat about any aspect of their treatment, I will be at the other end of a phone for them and I want to ensure that they feel totally connected to us and that we are in this patient journey together.

I want to hear what the patient expects from us and then I want to ensure that we absolutely surpass that expectation every step of the way.

So to summarise: Courtesy, professionalism and efficiency are just the starting point. Listen, take some time with each patient, find out what they expect… and then do far more. 

About the author

If you wish to contact Susie about this article or other practice management issues she can be reached at

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Published: 14 May, 2019 at 07:12
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