If you want to have a successful dental practice, it all comes down to patients. Understanding who your current patients are, and what needs, goals, fears and challenges they have, is fundamental to serving them better and creating loyalty. Wondering how to get new dental patients and keep your current ones happy? Developing a list of fictional patient personas—similar to so-called “marketing personas”—can help you understand and interact with your current patients more effectively, while become more targeted in finding new dental patients.
How to Develop your List of Personas
Creating your list of patient personas requires a little research and asking some questions. First, look at how your patients interact with your practice—who comes regularly for cleanings and treatments, who is more sporadic, who is an individual patient and who is part of a family that represent multiple patients, who has an insurance and who pay out-of-pocket, who comments on and likes your posts on your social media channels. Do you have reviews on Yelp or Facebook? Then, ask your staff for feedback about patients: what their needs, goals, likes and dislikes seem to be. Are staff members experiencing problems with some patients or receiving complaints or praise? Do they notice demographic patterns? Do many patients work at the same company, live in the same neighborhood or have children that attend the same schools?
Then, go to the patients themselves! Using a dental patient satisfaction survey is a great way to find out what your patients think of your office, staff, and services. Your dental patient survey should ask for basic information about each. Then ask for feedback on your appointment system, staff, office environment, and their experience of receiving care at your practice. Include space for patients to recommend improvements—there are lots of templates available online. Don’t forget to ask how they heard about you and if they would recommend your practice to a friend.
Once you have done your research, start developing a list of profiles, including details like age, marital status, job, education, insurance, behavior as a patient, state of dental and overall health, needs in terms of dental treatments, likes, dislikes, goals, fears, and “pain points” about their dental care. Give each persona a name and even a picture.
Some Patient Persona Examples
There are all sorts of patient “types”: nice, nervous, easy to deal with, or extremely fearful. Dealing with “difficult patients” can be a challenge, but developing patient personas can reveal the needs, goals, or fears motivating difficult personalities.
Katie - The Teenaged Girl Patient: She is a 15-17-year-old high school student, eats junk food, and has some tooth decay. She recently completed orthodontic treatment, is afraid of the drill and likes to listen to music during cleanings on her own headphones. She comes to the practice because her parents and siblings are patients and she is treated under her father’s insurance policy.
Robert - The Fearful Patient: He is 50-60 years old, works in construction and even though he has dental insurance through his company he is very reluctant to come to the dentist and does not like to schedule his appointments far in advance. He seems nervous at appointments, but initially declines offers of sedation or nitrous oxide while in the dentist’s chair. When these options are explained in advance of appointments, however, he is eager to try them.
Linda - The Frugal Patient: This patient is a 40-50-year-old woman with good dental health. She works as an independent persona assistant and has no dental insurance. She often discusses the prices of cleanings and procedures with great concern when she visits the practice.
Sandra - The Busy Mom: She is a stay at home mom in her 30s with three children under 10. Her husband, also a patient, is a lawyer at a big law firm and the family has excellent dental insurance. She tries to schedule the children’s appointments together. They often fall behind in cleanings, and she mentions how difficult it is to bring the children everywhere alone and keep them occupied while the others are being seen.
Luke - The Health-Conscious Patient: This patient is a man in his late 20s, works as a yoga instructor, and has very good dental health. He does not have dental insurance but money doesn't seem to be a problem. He often asks about what chemicals are used in dental treatments and brings up new articles he has read about dental and overall health, asking if the practice is making use of new information and research.
How to Use Personas
Your list of patient personas will help you tailor your messages to different audiences. On social media channels, you can provide content that will appeal across your patient population: articles on children’s dental health for Sandras, tweets about new advances in stress-free dentistry and how your office is incorporating them for Roberts or posts about managing dental costs for your Lindas. Social media activities directed at personas will help you reach new patients similar to your existing ones, when content is shared.
You can also use personas to address patient needs directly. For instance, offering toys or video games in the waiting area for children of busy moms and scheduling multiple children simultaneously when possible, developing a brochure or page on your website about the safety of treatment materials or holistic dental options for the health conscious, getting headphones for the teenagers to have access to music during appointments. Acknowledging patient needs and proactively offering them solutions is also a great way to generate referrals. Sandra will be happy to tell her friends about how easy it is to bring multiple children to the practice at the same time. And Luke can tell his health conscious friends and clients about how your practice addresses holistic concerns.
You may also consider incorporating a Dental Patient Care Coordinator (PCC) into your office staff, whose sole responsibility is managing the relationships between patients and your dental office, including consultation and monitoring courses of treatment. This staff member puts your list of personas to work by categorizing new patients and actively working to meet specific needs. Knowing your patients is the key to keeping them happy!