News |6 min read

Having Trouble Connecting with Your Patients? Find Your Charlie!

Real World Insights from AADOM Authors - Jane Walkley

I have been “doing” dentistry for a long time!

In my 40 years of providing support to my dentists, as their assistant, front desk, dental office manager or whatever task I am performing, I always keep the best interest of the patient at the forefront. After all, without them, where would we be and what would we be doing? Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily routine that we forget the very foundation of our dental practices: the patient.

I had a recent experience that brought back one of the reasons I started and stayed in dentistry my entire adulthood. I must issue a disclaimer- I love cats. I especially love ORANGE cats!

The beginning of the story

It was a very cold Saturday morning in mid-November; I was home and up early, ready to tackle the day. I had things to do.

Our office is open every other Saturday, so I appreciate it when I have a full weekend to spend at home. Being the person I am, I usually have several to-do lists, either written on paper or in my mind. Today was that day!

The coffee was brewing, the first round of laundry was started, my day was planned… just like my days at the office. The sky was still dark, and the cold of late fall had paid a visit; the temperature was hovering at a crisp 19 degrees at 6 AM. As I proceeded through my daily (even on the weekend) routine of feeding my cats their morning “can” I noticed the familiar face of “Charlie” at my back patio door.

Charlie’s story

Charlie is my neighbor’s cat from across the cul de sac. He is ORANGE!!!! His name isn’t really Charlie; it is Sonny. We nicknamed him Charlie (at times we call him yet another nickname, Chuck). He first appeared at our house over the summer. My husband and I thought he was lost or abandoned.

When we opened our door, he came running in, almost as if he hadn’t seen a friendly face or had any food for days. He searched out our cat feeding area, proceeded to gobble some food and, once satisfied, went back outside and on his merry way. It wasn’t until we saw him enter the neighbor’s house a few days later that we realized he had owners.

I confirmed this after a conversation with Charlie’s “mother.” She told me his name was “Sonny” and that she appreciated that we welcomed their cat into our home for breakfast every day. We shared a laugh over his adventures. I felt a bit better about Charlie not being homeless and abandoned. He had a home and a family to care for him. Charlie continued to come back almost every day, and on days he didn’t appear we wondered if he still needed us.

Most days he’d make himself known by staring through the door or climbing on the screen. My husband or I would welcome him in, serve him food, pet him, and make sure he was in good spirits. If it was raining, we gave him refuge. My husband and I laughed at how this little orange cat had become a part of our lives, and we enjoyed his company.

One morning, as Charlie was leaving for his daily adventure, I told him that he could come back later in the day for the evening meal. Sure enough, Charlie came back and enjoyed our hospitality so much that he started a twice daily visit for a meal with our cats.

At times we offered for him to hang out with us and play with our cats. Some mornings, my son leaves for work at 4 AM; on these days, he lets Charlie in, and the cat joins us while we get ready for work. There have been days that I come home from work in the afternoon only to have Charlie run across from his house to greet me.

The rest of the story…

Let’s go back to the cold morning in November. After feeding Charlie, I was going to put him back outside; but my husband suggested that I allow him to stay inside, due to the cold weather. Charlie stayed for a few minutes, played a bit, then decided he needed to get on with his day. An inner voice spoke to me.

I said to my husband, ”There’s a dental story in Charlie’s story.” The conversation that followed went something like this:

My husband: “What, how to get dental patients?”

Me: “No, how to keep dental patients.”

Learning to connect

You see, Charlie (or Sonny or Chuck) was a cat who came to our house. We welcomed him in. We got to know him, fed him, made sure he received some friendly hugs and loved him as our own.

Our experience with Charlie is no different than the people who come to our dental practices. They have a need, and we must recognize what that need is. Sure, they want an examination, cleaning, restorative treatment, etc. They become more than people or patients; they become a part of the practice, the dental family.

I am an introvert by nature. Initiating conversation is not within my comfort zone. I learned very early in my career that if I wanted to succeed in a patient-focused industry, I needed to become a people person. I am so glad I figured out how to effectively start conversations and nurture relationships. What I have also found in my 40 years of dentistry is that many of our patients are looking for a connection, a team that truly cares for them.

A dental team that can invite them in, have a conversation, and offer a friendly and caring environment; all while providing a quality dental experience.

Quality of caring

Like our Charlie cat that comes twice daily for his breakfast, dinner, and fellowship, our dental patients are coming back for recare at least twice yearly. Some are here more frequently, depending on their treatment needs. Are we welcoming them in like a member of our family or rushing them out the door when the appointment is finished? Are we listening to their stories and truly caring about them?

When we get to know our patients, like we got to know Charlie, we can build relationships. Nurturing those relationships will keep patients coming back. They will come back for the quality of care. They will also come back for the quality of caring.

We know the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Listen to the needs of your patients and be in tune with what they are saying.

Like Charlie, they will keep coming back. When the door opens, greet them heartily, listen to their story, make eye contact, enjoy their company, smile when they leave, and welcome them back. You might just find you have a practice full of Charlies!


Meet the Author

Profile photo of author Jane Walkley and her cat Charlie.
Jane has been in dentistry for 40 years. She joined AADOM in 2011 and earned her dental management Fellowship in 2012.

Jane began her career as a dental assistant and enjoyed several years in that capacity before landing at the front desk. She enjoys getting to know her patients.

A lover of cats, she lives in Maryland with her husband, three cats and a visitor cat named Charlie.





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