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You’re no doubt very familiar with this situation:

You get a call a few minutes before you’re heading home on a Friday night. The caller isn’t a patient of yours. In fact, he hasn’t seen a dentist in years. He’s broken a tooth, is in extreme pain and doesn’t have a lot of money. He’s not sure if he can afford to have his tooth fixed, but hopes you might be able to prescribe him some pain medication to help him get through the weekend.

Most dentists would receive a call like this and immediately grit their teeth. Some would assume that the caller’s just a drug addict trying to get some Vicodin. Either way, treating him this late at night or over the weekend is going to be inconvenient, and in the eyes of many dentists, a patient like the one described above simply isn’t worth the hassle. Nothing could be further from reality – the truth about emergency patients is that they represent one of the best opportunities in dentistry!

Emergency patients are simply avoiders who have neglected their teeth for so long that they’re often in need of major restorative work. If you can help them out, while also giving them a great dental experience, they’re likely to forget all about their reason for avoiding the dentist. It’s a chance to completely turn someone’s perception of dentistry around and create a loyal patient for life. Even better, that patient is going to be generating production for you right from the beginning. The key is to start off your relationship with your emergency patients right by making sure they realize that dentistry has value.

In the case of the above example, here’s what to do: tell the patient that you’re not going to prescribe any pain meds until you’ve seen him, but that you’d be happy to see him that night. Say your emergency exam fee for working outside normal business hours is $300, so he should be sure to bring cash or a major credit card with him. Tell him that the fee is due before you start any work, but that it will be credited in full to the cost of the treatment. If the patient really has a problem, and he realizes that you’re genuinely interested in helping him, he’ll find a way to come up with that money. It’s a win-win. Your patient is out of pain and you’ve started the relationship off on the right foot – establishing what your dentistry can do for him and setting the precedent of paying you up front for your services.

You and every member of your staff should recognize emergency patients as a crucial part of your business. You don’t want to miss out on them! Try forwarding all of your emergency calls to a cell phone each night and weekend, and rotate the responsibility of taking the phone home among the members of your staff. Discuss how emergency calls are to be handled and create a system for vetting them, but any successful dentist realizes that you don’t want to close the door to emergency patients. In fact, you never want to hold the door open wider.

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Comment by Darrell Pruitt on February 4, 2010 at 8:26am
I know I wouldn't mess with you, Mary.
Comment by Mary Jane RDH BS on February 4, 2010 at 5:38am
The beauty of practicing in Rutland Vermont is that many times my first boss and I would do just that. But that was in the seventies; I am afraid my current boss's, foolhardy they may be, are doing the same. But I am packing my Lady Smith and Wesson revolver which I am proud to say is legal in the Green Mountain State and the city police have been alerted to the fact that we are at the office after hours.
Comment by Darrell Pruitt on February 2, 2010 at 5:45pm
I respectfully disagree, Fred. Theives order pizzas and hail taxis for a few bucks, Dentists are rich. Word gets around. Theives sometimes kill their victims, and they can hit any dentist office in the nation.

Telling someone that you demand $300 to get off the couch is hardly endearing.
Comment by Fred Joyal on February 2, 2010 at 5:09pm
I'm not going to say something like that couldn't happen, but I think it's highly unlikely. Perhaps if you practice in a known high crime area you might want to be wary and it wouldn't be a bad idea to pay one of your team members overtime to stay with you, but calling in a phony dental emergency just to mug a dentist seems like a stretch. There are better, simpler ways to steal a buck, if that's your intention.
Comment by Darrell Pruitt on February 2, 2010 at 2:45pm
In some cities, by following this advice one could be setting oneself up for robbery (or worse). Sorry.


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