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The Complimentary Cosmetic Consultation

Patients don't understand cosmetic dentistry very well, and if you can make it easy for them to learn about it, you're doing them a favor and also gaining more patients.

The trick to drawing people in with a complimentary consultation is making it time efficient for yourself. You can't spend a half hour at this and expect to feel good about offering it for free. You need to cut the time investment down to about two minutes or less. Here's how you do it.

The key is to have a treatment coordinator on staff who understands cosmetic dentistry and treatment options and who is an excellent communicator. A second key is communicating effectively over the phone to prospective patients so that they aren't expecting more than they're going to get during this visit.

Let's start with the phone call. A prospective patient calls with questions about a cosmetic procedure, fees, or any of a variety of questions. Your staff member answers the question and then offers a complimentary cosmetic consultation by saying something like this: "If you'd like, we can schedule a no-cost visit for you to get a chance to meet the doctor, to see if this procedure is right for you, to get a rough idea of the costs involved, and have more of your questions answered. Would you like to schedule that?"

If the prospective patient schedules, the staff person handling the phone takes down the nature of their questions so that the staff will be briefed, before the visit, on what questions to expect.

The office visit is then handled by the treatment coordinator, who brings the prospective patient into a consultation room that is equipped with a video imaging computer. The treatment coordinator reviews the notes of the telephone conversation, and then begins to discuss the questions that the prospective patient has. The dentist is signaled that the prospective patient has arrived, so that he or she can come in whenever there is a minute break in the schedule. And I mean literally a one-minute break. The dentist should be able to do what he needs to do in one minute.

So the dentist enters, interrupting the treatment coordinator. He has been familiarized with the questions that the prospective patient has. He picks up a mouth mirror, looks briefly at the patient's teeth, and makes a brief comment about the patient's situation. He might say something like, "Yes, it looks like porcelain veneers would work for you. I think if you bleached your bottom teeth, we could give you a dazzling smile with maybe eight or ten veneers on the top." The dentist then leaves to return to his patient. His time involvement could be as brief as thirty seconds, but no longer than two minutes.

In my practice, we instructed the treatment coordinator to then take that information, create a simulated photograph on the computer of how the patient would look with this proposed treatment, and then to give an oral price estimate of the cost of the case. Any quoted fees were always given with the disclaimer that the dentist couldn't tell for certain what the patient needed without a comprehensive exam. And there was a strict instruction not to write down anything. Any written treatment plan or cost estimate could be misinterpreted as a quotation down the road. If these plans or estimates were not written, we never had any trouble with them being misunderstood—they never came back to haunt us. If the patient did return for a comprehensive exam, which they almost always did, they would then be given a written treatment plan with definite fees and time estimates all written down.

Keys to an effective complimentary cosmetic consultation:

  • A minimum time investment by the dentist

  • The prospective patient visit is handled by a personable treatment coordinator

  • The prospective patient understands that this is not an examination where he or she can get concrete answers about what is wrong with his or her mouth. It is only to ask questions and possibly get a ballpark idea of fees that might be involved.

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