Running a Dental Practice: Why Effective Communication Strategies Matter

By Dental Success Network

May 16, 2021

Poor Communication Can Hurt Your Dental Practice and Policies.

One of the most important habits you can develop at your dental practice is clear and thorough communication. People often think they have an effective communication strategy in place for their team and patients — only to find out there was an issue in the process. To increase productivity in your practice, be crystal clear, over-communicate, and ask questions to ensure understanding has been achieved. There’s no question that communication is the most valuable tool for a dental practice conducting business.

An example from a Dental Success Network (DSN) member: 

“Had a humbling moment with my team recently. We have cancellation policies and prepayment policies for appointments that are consistently ignored. It has been on my back burner to address, as I see it as a leadership and accountability issue.

What I discovered is that my policy was just really not very clear. While I could elevator pitch it to you, many grey areas made it difficult for my team to commit to it. It demonstrated a breakdown in communication between myself and my team.”


What You Say and What They Hear Are Often Two Different Things. 

The issue at hand is effective communication. Often people assume they clearly conveyed their ideas or message but fail to take into account others interpretations. One person may think they clearly explained a concept, but the person next to them might disagree and have questions for more clarification.

 A Dental Success Network (DSN) member has asked for feedback regarding his new cancellation policy. Below you will see some of the feedback other members provided on the poster’s cancellation policy, but you will also see comments about communicating effectively and why that matters.

It’s better to make patients understand the value of the appointment and make it hard for them to reschedule.

Will there always be cancellations and no-shows? Yes. But for those who are trouble, handle them in a specific way.

First Cancellation

  1. Phase one of your policy: try to save the appointment.
  2. If that doesn’t work: listen to the excuse.
  3. If it’s valid and the patient never misses, let it go and let them schedule ASAP.
  4. If it’s not a good excuse, but they are a great patient, let it go the first time.

Second Cancellation

  1. Try to save appointments, but if not, tell them, “sorry, you have to cancel. Let’s find another appointment that works for you. Currently, our first appointment available for XXX is in 6 weeks. Since this was a problematic appointment for you (if that applies because of traffic, work, etc.), perhaps we can find a better day or time for you?”
  2. If they have an appointment for anything major, they ride them very hard and let them know that “this was a (2 / 3) hour appointment with Dr. XXX, and these are “premium” appointments that are very hard to get. Is there anything you can do to make it? Perhaps coming a little late and staying through lunch?”
  3. If it’s a great patient and they never cancel, find another time for them. If not a great patient, push them out – typically, dentists are three months out for non-emergency treatment anyway, so find the first available opening.

It doesn’t happen often, but dentists sometimes have to:

  1. Change appointments because a lab case didn’t come in.
  2.  Change appointments because the Dr. was sick, had a sick family member, or another matter on short notice.
  3.  Ran into an unexpectedly longer appointment than usual and asked the patient if they’d like to stay or come back another time.

Again, this doesn’t happen often, but you certainly don’t want patients looking at a one-sided cancellation policy.


Communication is a Critical Component of Success.

This concept of clarity in communication could arguably be our most important job as visionaries of our company. Here is a great example non-related to dentistry.

“We host a workout group every morning at 5 am at our house. Usually, 8-12 people show up every day, and I have become the de facto leader of the group and in charge of coming up with the workouts. This group is some of my closest friends and very accomplished, intelligent people. A doctor, a vet, two high-level bankers, a chemist, a college professor, intelligent people.

Today I organized the workout and jotted down a summary of it on our whiteboard. In my head, it was clear as day. Simple. Straight forward. I started the timer, and the workout began. For the first five minutes, people were confused, didn’t know where to go, how many reps to do, how much weight to use, who they partner with, etc.

They were coming to me with questions DURING THE WORKOUT, and I was getting frustrated, thinking to myself, “are you kidding me?”

In retrospect, I was so UNCLEAR about the workout instructions, and these extremely intelligent people didn’t get it, but they had the insight and courage to approach me for more clarity.

The SAME THING HAS HAPPENED TO ME AT WORK, except I’m probably even less clear, and I’m not dealing with accomplished professionals. I’m dealing with girls making 20 bucks an hour who are very intimidated by me. It’s amazing that we get anything accomplished.”


In Summary: Make Certain Your Message is Clear.

The quality of a message depends on how well it is interpreted and classified by those who hear it. You may think that you clearly relayed a concept or an idea and explained it to everyone’s satisfaction; however, another person might disagree with you. People communicate differently, and unless your team is on the same page, your dental practice will not have an effective communication strategy. 

Dental Success Network was built by Dr. Mark Costes with the goal of helping dentists run a profitable business, become better clinicians and build a community where like-minded dental practice owners can collaborate and become leaders in the dental industry.

You will find them answering clinical, practice management, and life-related questions every single day in our Workplace community. Our esteemed faculty will also, on occasion, host dental continuing education courses pertaining to their particular domain expertise, so you will have the opportunity to learn clinical and dental practice management skills at a great discount. If you’re looking for more actionable information like this, check out the 45 Day Free Trial of Dental Success Network!