Patient perceptions: the dental staff's influence on patient satisfaction: how dental staff can earn patient trust and loyalty.
Subject: Patient satisfaction (Management)
Dental personnel (Practice)
Dental personnel (Customer relations)
Author: Sheffield, Timothy J.
Pub Date: 09/01/2009
Publication: Name: The Dental Assistant Publisher: American Dental Assistants Association Audience: Academic; Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Dental Assistants Association ISSN: 1088-3886
Issue: Date: Sept-Oct, 2009 Source Volume: 78 Source Issue: 5
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 240 Marketing procedures Computer Subject: Company business management
Product: Product Code: 8043800 Dental Auxiliaries NAICS Code: 62121 Offices of Dentists
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 221850557
Full Text: In today's health care industry, it is often very difficult to determine if a patient is satisfied with the care that he or she is receiving without conducting customer satisfaction surveys. In fact, a patient often attaches value, not on the care itself, but on the behavior of the treatment team delivering that care. The level of personal interaction that the dental staff has with patients can influence the their perception of the overall quality of care they receive. Arming dental staff members with the appropriate skills to meet the unique interpersonal needs of our patients can counter undesirable treatment experiences that are frequently disruptive to the dental team and distressing to other patients.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Marketing, Caruana and Fenech define patients' perception of value "as the consumers' overall assessment of the utility of the product, based on perceptions of what is received and what is given." When dental personnel are equipped with a dear understanding of their patient's definition of perceived value, the dental professionals can adapt their personal approach to meet the needs of the patient's service expectations. After all, "the patient does not have the technical knowledge to assess the quality of the service and hence relies more on other cues" to assess the relative value of the treatment received (Salgaonkar and Mekoth, 2004). Therefore, it is imperitive that the treatment team understands that the patient is a vulnerable consumer, who may not be able to determine the product of value he or she received, and must trust in the treatment team to fill this void with positive interactions.

Identifying the causative factors that result in negative patient experiences can often lead to favorable outcomes when employees recognize what our patients value. C. S. Lauer, writing in Modern Healthcare, explains that "too many people in healthcare have forgotten what their mission should be: It's not only to help patients get well, but also to make them feel valued" The treatment team can accomplish this by simply integrating subtle changes into their interpersonal communications with patients, directly benefiting their well-being.


By going beyond their position descriptions and attaching importance to accomplishing the small things, the dental staff earns the respect of patients and most importantly; their loyalty. Some examples of this would be the receptionist offering an immediate smile and addressing the patient by name when he or she enters the waiting area, or the hygienist and the assistant who actively listen after asking a question instead of interrupting the patient or immediately rushing off without making eye contact. Acknowledging and understanding the patient's inconvenience when treatment delays occur is an additional example of showing consideration for our patients' valuable time.

The treatment team that delivers acts of kindness combined with an attentiveness to the small details that welcome and comfort patients is providing intangible services that patients will remember the most when they exit the dental office. Patients' perceptions of the treatment they receive are merely their interpretations of the kind gestures that result in their overall positive treatment experience that they will share with their friends, family; and colleagues. From a financial standpoint, research supports that improving patient satisfaction makes good business sense as well, knowing that "dissatisfied customers don't come back and when they go to the competitor they take their friends with them" (Salgaonkar and Mekoth, 2004).


Since dental assistants spend significantly more time with each patient than the rest of the treatment team, it would only be fitting to add that these individuals possess the greatest opportunity to influence patients' perceptions of the quality of care that they receive.



(1.) Caruana, A., and Fenech, N. (2005). The effect of perceived value and overall satisfaction on loyalty: A study among dental patients. Journal of Medical Marketing, 5(3), 245-255.

(2.) Salgaonkar, P.B., and Mekoth, N. (2004). Patient as a source of recommendation and its influence on another patient's loyalty to the physician: An exploratory empirical study. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 17, 16-26.

(3.) Lauer, C. S. (2008). Work on the little things. Modern Healthcare, 38(41), 25.

Master Sergeant Timothy J. Sheffield is the Dental Support Flight Chief,, 96th Dental Squadron, Eglin AFB, Fla. He has served as an Air Force dental assistant for 20 years and oversees all administrative functions for a clinic delivering care to 8,400 patients each year. He also advises the commander on the staffing, training, and career development of 58 ancillary personnel. In addition to his Associate of Applied Science degree in Dental Assisting, Sergeant Sheffield graduated Magna Cure Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Care Management from Southern Illinois University.
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