How to win over emergency patients

When patients call with a dental emergency, they’re often scared and in a lot of pain. Most don’t have a dental home and are just looking for someone, anyone, who can help. These patients are grateful when they find an office that can see them, which you would think would make them want to return for a comprehensive exam. Why then, are most emergency patients never heard from again? 

It’s usually because they just didn’t feel comfortable during the visit. Sure, they were worked into the schedule, but only after it was made clear that fitting them in would throw off the rest of the doctor’s already busy day. Once these patients arrive, that busy dentist rushes them in and out of the chair without educating them about the importance of maintaining their oral health or how the practice can help them avoid emergencies in the future. There’s no attempt at building a relationship, so patients don’t feel a connection, and that means they won’t return. 

Emergency patients represent an opportunity for practice growth, but only if you and your team members make an effort to win them over. How, exactly, can you do that? Here are my tips: 

Emphasize how important emergency patients are to the practice. When emergency patients call in, team members should do what they can to put them at ease. Let them know the dentist will do his best to get them out of pain as quickly as possible, and that everyone at the practice has their best interest at heart. Develop a well-thought-out script to guide team members through these conversations, and make sure they know to always use a caring tone. All this will help set the foundation for a long-last relationship.  

Give them a little extra TLC. The goal is to make emergency patients as comfortable as possible, whether that means offering them water as they wait or helping them fill out paperwork. Team members should assure them they’re in good hands, then take them to a private consult room where they can wait for the doctor. These small touches won’t go unnoticed and may be enough to make emergency patients want to call your practice their dental home. 

Provide education. One of the main reasons emergency patients don’t already have a dentist is lack of education. They don’t understand the importance of maintaining their oral health, or what can happen if they put off treatment. Take this opportunity to provide that education. Talk with them about their condition and how you can help them avoid emergencies in the future. Show them there’s value in dentistry and the care your practice provides, and they’ll be much more likely to return for a comprehensive exam. 

Pay attention to cues. For education to be effective, I suggest you tailor it to every individual situation. Ask questions and look for cues in their answers. Train your dental assistant to take note of any obstacles patients bring up that might keep them from scheduling a comprehensive exam. Here are a few things to take note of:  

-He appears scared or anxious

-He keeps asking how much treatment will cost, how much pain to expect or how long the procedure will take

-He seems frustrated, even a little angry 

-He keeps apologizing because it’s been so long since he’s seen a dentist

-He brings up a negative dental experience that has kept him out of the chair for years 

Addressing these concerns chairside will show emergency patients you care, helping them develop that all-important connection with your practice. 

Plan for emergency patients. Trying to fit emergency patients into the schedule can be stressful for team members, which could lead to negative interactions with patients. Eliminate that stress by leaving open slots that emergency patients can slide right into. The Scheduling Coordinator won’t have to move things around or squeeze these patients in because there’s already room for them in the schedule. 

Follow-up. Trust me, patients will appreciate hearing from you if you call to see how they’re feeling after their visit. While you have them on the phone, take the opportunity to thank them for choosing your practice and let them know you’d love to see them back for a comprehensive exam. But don’t stop there. Follow that up by sending them a packet of information about the practice along with a handwritten note. These gestures don’t take much time, but they go a long way in building connections and making patients want to entrust your practice with their care. 

Win them over

Emergency patients represent an opportunity for growth and shouldn’t be looked at as a source of stress or an inconvenience. Do your best to put emergency patients at ease and to get them out of pain as soon as possible. Start building relationships with these patients by educating them and showing them you care. They’ll start to feel a connection to your practice, and that’s how you win their loyalty. 

Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management,, a full-service, nation-wide dental practice management company. Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at

Dental Billing Tips and News for Pros; Edition #147


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