Smile questionnaires – how to make them work for you and your patients

Dee Gerrish, Specialist Dental Business Consultant with Clear Vision, gives a step-by-step guide to creating a great smile questionnaire.

I regularly get asked by dentists to review or write a smile questionnaire. So it’s time to share my best advice on making yours work for you and your patients.

Here’s my four step guide to creating a great and effective version:

Step 1: Think about its purpose

First of all, consider why you’re creating the form. What do you want it to achieve?

Making sure your patients know about all the treatments you offer makes sense. And it’s something dentists sometimes overlook. But beware of simply listing questions which are overtly promoting cosmetic treatments. If the patient hasn’t visited you specifically for a cosmetic consultation, this can appear ‘salesy’ and put them off.

The most effective smile questionnaires I have seen in action are designed to initiate the conversations the dentist wants to have with their patient. Conversations about the patient’s feelings, wishes and problems and how your treatment can provide the solution they may be looking for. They deal with more than just aesthetics.

A great smile questionnaire:

  1. Highlights a patient’s current concerns, issues or wishes
  2. Gives the dentist the opening to discuss the issue and how a particular treatment or service can resolve it
  3. Cuts down the time it takes the dentist to bring together points 1 and 2

Step 2: Think about your patient

As stated above, the most productive questionnaires focus on a patient’s feelings and wishes and not on the dentist’s treatments. Make your questionnaire serve your patients and it will work for you too.

So consider each of your treatments. And then identify:

  • what ‘pain’ they help your patients move away from, or
  • what ‘gain’ they help them move towards

This ‘pain or gain’ thought process is helpful when constructing your questions. For instance, a patient can’t ‘desire’ an implant and crown, but they can be worried about a gap showing when they smile. The ‘gain’ they want to move towards is filling the gap and smiling with confidence, so this is the best approach for the question (if a question asking a patient if they would like an implant seems an unlikely scenario to you, I can assure you that I have seen such a question asked of patients more than once!).

Step 3: Consider the design of your questionnaire

  • What to call it? Most questionnaires are simply called ‘smile questionnaire’ or ‘your smile’ but its title is worth further consideration. I suggest ‘your dental wishes’ or ‘getting to know you’ (for new patients) is more appropriate for a questionnaire designed to get to the heart of the patient’s wishes and needs
  • Include a concise introduction, which clearly states the purpose of the questionnaire
  • Include clear and easy to complete questions – if your patient is unable to answer the first few questions or the questionnaire is too long, then they’re very likely to give up.
  • Include questions about how you can resolve pain or offer gain using non cosmetic treatments as well as cosmetic. Mix up the questions between those with a cosmetic solution and those with non cosmetic
  • Keep your answer options simple. Don’t include complex rating scales – remember the questionnaire is designed to do one thing and one thing only – start a productive conversation about how the patient is feeling
  • Complete the form with a heartfelt thank you which shows the patient how vital the information they have provided is

Step 4: Work out your questionnaire system

It is no use simply designing a questionnaire, you need to put a good system in place to use it!
Consider when and how you pass it to your patients to fill in. Are your questions sensitive? Would your patients prefer to complete the form where they are not overlooked rather than in the middle of your waiting room?

One practice I visited recently provides a new patient discussion with their friendly and vibrant Practice Manager who collects all their medical information and fills in their smile questionnaire during the private conversation – what a great first impression! And one which gets to the heart of the patient’s current issues clearly and early in the relationship, away from the surgery and busy reception.
Include a discussion about the purpose of the questionnaire in a team meeting and how you would like it to be used. Ensure your team members feel comfortable presenting it to patients and explaining its value. Team training is essential to ensure everyone is confident in using the questionnaire and will use it.

Encourage your new patients to fill it in and review it with them every year. You can encourage your existing patients to complete it too when you explain the value to them as well. Write an existing patient version if you need to.

Be prepared to change the way you incorporate the filling in of the form into your daily systems. If you find a better way to include it in your patient appointments, make the change!

Be prepared also to change and improve the questionnaire itself as you gain feedback on it from your patients – you can always make improvements.

Above all, be committed to using your questionnaire and you’ll get the best out of it.

For a free, no obligation evaluation of your smile questionnaire call 01249 712074 or email me at: dee.gerrish@cvag.co.uk


Original Article:
Clear Vision

About Clear Vision

The traditional method of setting goals and gauging the success of a dental business does not automatically provide you with what you need and want. As the dental business owner, it puts you last in the queue. Clear Vision believes that your business should deliver the lifestyle you want. So when you work with our friendly and vibrant team of accountants and business advisers, it starts with you. What you want. How you want to create a difference in your life. Tell us your goals and we’ll work to help you develop a strong, positive dental business which delivers the life you want for you and your family. We have worked with dentists all over the UK since 2001. Dentists who share the same challenges and issues as you. And we’ve seen what factors will really make the difference in improving your results and increasing your rewards. So you benefit from what we know works and doesn’t work. For a taste of the insights we share check out our blog for dentists: www.clearvisiondentalblog.co.uk. We’re ready to share our experience and insights with you. Simply call our friendly team on 01249 712074 for an informal discussion. You’ll have our ear, our understanding and the considerable expertise which comes from successfully improving the lives of dentists like you.