How Making Post-Op Phone Calls Can Help You Increase Patient Loyalty
by Tyson Downs
With dental practices popping up left and right, more dentists are asking us here at Titan Web Agency what they can do to increase patient loyalty. We like this topic because it’s something that dentists have complete control over, from before patients walk in the door to when they leave after their appointment.
One way you can provide excellent care and earn patient loyalty is with post-op phone calls. Patients who undergo dental surgery typically require more follow-up than patients who receive routine cleanings. This gives you an opportunity to wow your patients by following up after the surgery and checking on their well-being.
It’s easy to put off following up with surgical patients. Perhaps you tell them they should call you or come in for a follow-up appointment if they have questions. There’s nothing wrong with that – but you can (and should) be doing more.
Post-Op Complications Affect Patients’ Lives
Any surgical procedure carries risks, and dental surgery is no exception. Even a routine oral surgery can result in discomfort. However, complications, even small ones, require follow-up care to ensure your patient is healing nicely.
You probably talk to patients about possible side effects and prescribe pain medication to ensure their comfort after surgery. But, serious issues like osteomyelitis and osteonecrosis can still occur. Catching these conditions early is important to maintain their safety and health.
Even if you provide your patients with a post-op care sheet that lets them know when they need to contact you, it’s still a good idea to make a post-op phone call. Sometimes, patients can underestimate the severity of their symptoms. A call from you may help identify potential problems before they become serious.
Do Post-Op Calls Make a Difference in Patient Outcomes?
If you’re not in the habit of making post-op phone calls to your patients, you might wonder if it’s really important to do so. While common outpatient procedures are typically low risk, there is still a possibility for infection or something worse.
A study from 2010 looked at the impact of post-op calls on patient outcomes and revealed that making calls could save both time and money in the long run.
The study included 1,378 patients who were contacted by telephone after surgery. The nurses who conducted the calls were able to contact 85.4% of patients, 10.7% of whom required further outpatient follow-up.
The study concluded that many of these patients would have come in for a follow-up visit without the phone call. It also found that most patients expected a post-op follow-up with their doctors but were satisfied with the phone calls they received instead.
These findings hold true for surgeries when an in-person follow-up visit is a requirement. For example, a 2005 study found that patients who had a coronary artery bypass graft were more likely to attend their post-operative appointments if they received a call from a nurse prior to their scheduled appointment.
The takeaway here is that patients have a higher chance of a positive post-operative experience and are apt to recover more quickly if they receive a post-op phone call. It’s also safe to assume that the majority of your surgical patients will expect some kind of follow-up from you and making phone calls is more time and cost-effective than scheduling office visits.
Does Making Post-Op Calls Have Other Benefits?
Research confirms that patient outcomes are likely to improve when you make post-op calls. While that’s important, it’s also not the only reason that you should consider making post-op calls to your dental surgery patients.
The first reason is that it can minimize confusion and discomfort, even in patients who don’t require a post-op appointment with you. Sometimes, patients can be confused about your post-op care instructions. A quick call gives them a chance to ask questions – and your staff the chance to clarify and confirm that they’re doing what they need to do.
The second reason – and this is an important one – is that it reinforces the patient’s belief that you care about them. It’s easy for patients to feel like they’re just a number to their healthcare provider. This includes dentists.
Reaching out to patients after they’ve had oral surgery can build the patient-dentist relationship and make them feel loyal and more connected to you and your staff. Considering that it costs far more to get a new patient than to retain an existing one, a quick post-op phone call is a worthwhile investment of you and your staff’s time.
Post-op phone calls may also save your practice money in the long run. While you want to make sure that your staff is busy, and your office has plenty of patients, it’s not cost-effective to have patients coming in unnecessarily. Calling them after a surgical procedure can leave time that you might have spent in a follow-up visit free for new patients.
Finally, a post-op phone call may also be an opportunity to identify other concerns your patient’s may have about their dental health. You can schedule appointments or educate them about procedures your practice offers. For example, a patient who is happy with their surgical experience might decide to invest in some elective dental treatments, such as whitening, if given the opportunity.
In short, your practice can gain a lot more by making post-op calls part of your patient care protocol.
Who Should Make Post-Op Calls to Your Patients?
One of the questions we hear a lot when we talk about post-op calls has to do with who should make them. Does the call need to come from a dentist? If the answer to that question is no, then can a staffer make it, or should you have a nurse do it?
Several of the studies we cited above involved post-op calls made by nurses. There are some compelling arguments to have a medical professional like a nurse make those calls. For example:
- A nurse will know the proper follow-up questions to ask the patients..
- Nurses are unlikely to miss red flags that might indicate that a patient needs to make a follow-up appointment.
- Patients are likely to trust a nurse’s reassurance that they don’t need to see the doctor again and might not accept the same information from a non-medical staff member.
The same arguments could potentially allow for a dental hygienist to make follow-up calls in some cases. Your patients know the hygienist who works on their teeth and has a relationship with them. They’ll be able to answer most patient questions and should be able to identify situations that might require an additional discussion with a nurse or doctor.
The other option is to have a non-medical staffer make the phone calls. The primary benefit of this approach is that it’s likely to be less expensive than having a dentist, nurse, or hygienist make the calls.
The biggest disadvantage to having non-medical personal make follow-up calls is that the patient may perceive these calls differently than they would a call from you or a nurse. They may be less likely to accept a phone call in lieu of a follow-up appointment.
There’s also some risk that a non-medical staffer might miss a potential problem due to their lack of medical training. For that reason, it may be your best option to have medical staff make the majority of post-op calls. If you have a lot of calls to make, have your staff make the calls for the most routine surgeries with the least likelihood of serious complications.
Tips for Making Effective Post-Op Calls
A post-op phone call is more than just a check-in. It’s an opportunity for you and your staff to connect with patients, reassure them that you care about their health and well-being, and identify potential complications and issues that might require additional care.
For these reasons, you should have a policy for post-op calls that applies to all your staff. If you handle post-op calls properly, they can pay significant dividends for your practice and its profitability. Here are some of the things we suggest you do:
- Make Calls Within 72 Hours
The first thing to keep in mind is that the timing of post-op calls makes a difference in how patients perceive them. A good rule of thumb is to make all follow-up calls within 72 hours of the procedure. In other words, a procedure on Friday should receive a call on Monday.
Waiting longer than 72 hours may decrease the effectiveness of your calls. One of your goals is to ensure that patients know you care. Timely calls will build that perception and give you the highest possible chance of improving the bond with your patients.
- Create a Basic Script for Calls
You should create a basic script for calls. Since deviations from the script are likely based on individual patients, the most important thing to do is to have a script for the beginning and end of the call.
The person making the call should identify who they are and why they’re calling. They should ask about the patient’s condition and if there are any questions. At the end of the call, they should thank the patient for their time and make sure they know they can contact your office if they need anything.
- Review Post-Op Care Instructions
One of the most important components of any post-op call is to review the care instructions provided to the patient. One study found that 78% of patients had misunderstood at least part of their discharge instructions after release from the Emergency Department.
The person making the call should read the post-care instructions and ask if the patient has questions. It’s important not only to answer the questions but to make notes about any misunderstandings. These notes can help you improve your discharge instructions for future patients.
- Require Callers to Take Notes
Any post-op calls you make should become part of your patient’s file. That means that as they speak to patients, your employees will need to take notes.
Notes are essential. They establish that the call was made. They may also help you improve post-op instructions for future patients. Finally, they can help you identify potential trends and issues that you can use in your marketing later. Notes should include:
- The date and time of the call.
- Confirmation that the caller reviewed post-op instructions.
- Any questions or comments from the patient.
- Opportunities for future treatments.
The notes you take can provide an opportunity to improve your patient care and follow-up going forward.
- Share Notes and Comments with Staff Members
As you begin to make post-op phone calls, you should share your insights and feedback with your whole team. Not only will this increase employee satisfaction and loyalty, it can also help you to improve your practice.
You may find that some staff members are reluctant to make calls because they worry that they’ll hear complaints. That’s a possibility, of course, but sharing positive comments and thanks can help bolster your staff’s confidence. You should view any complaint as an opportunity for improvement.
It is far less expensive and time-consuming to retain your existing dental patients than it is to attract new ones. Creating a system for making post-op phone calls can help you improve patient outcomes, increase patient loyalty, boost profits, and keep your staff feeling satisfied and appreciated.
Do you make regular post-op phone calls to your patients? Tell us in the comments!
About the Author
Tyson Downs is the founder of Titan Web Agency, a company specializing in marketing for dental professionals. With an impressive track record of working with over 100 dental practices, Tyson has a deep understanding of the unique marketing needs within the dental industry. His expertise has helped numerous dental practices flourish by meeting and surpassing their revenue goals and established him as a thought leader in healthcare marketing. His insights and strategies have been featured in esteemed dental publications, including the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. Before dedicating his career to helping dental professionals thrive through effective marketing, Tyson honed his skills in SEO and web design as a freelancer, while also gaining valuable experience in the corporate sector. As an alumnus of Brigham Young University, he brings a strong educational background to his entrepreneurial endeavors. Outside of his professional life, Tyson is a devoted father of five, who cherishes time spent with his family, especially when they're all enjoying America's pastime on the baseball field.