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Christina Villarreal: Implementing Patient Experience Improvement Strategies

A big challenge for dental practice leaders is team buy-in and support for implementing changes to improve the patient experience. Christina Villarreal, Patient Experience Manager of Dental Associates says, "Of course, our patients know we are here to take care of them, but if we are not providing our patients an amazing experience, they are going to go somewhere else."

Top Leadership Priority

When a patient experience improvement strategy is proposed to improve the patient experience, there may be reluctance among team members to implement it. The support and advocacy of the practice leadership will be necessary to engage the team.  "It has to come from the very top leadership. Make sure your leadership supports the change and advocates for it," says Villarreal. If a proposed strategy has top leadership support, it is implementable.

Team Engagement

A common concern of team members is that the proposed change will require more time of them. To counter that concern, leadership needs to create clarity around what is to be implemented, why, and then reinforce it with reminders. For example, team members may be instructed to intentionally be more courteous, interested in patients, and take time to respectfully listen.

"You are not adding minutes to that appointment. You're doing it while you are with that patient. I feel like that's always been the challenge with a lot of improvement initiatives," says Villarreal. "They say we're just so busy. I always say it's just very simple. Be kind, listen, be courteous, show empathy-- those kinds of things. And, everything will fall into place. So, I think it's just getting the staff members to understand you want to treat your patients like you would treat a member of your family. Basically, there is no added time. You're just doing these things a little differently and saying things a little differently."

It's important that your team knows you are not just trying to pile extra work on them. You want to take care of patients and also for them to enjoy what they are doing. You hope this is not only an improvement for the patient, but also an improvement for them as well.

One Change at a Time

"You don't ever want to do too much at one time. Everyone has to be on the same page doing the same thing. And then wait some time to make sure that you can measure and see if that's working or not," says Villarreal. If you do too many things at once, you're not going to know which strategy is working. Not all strategic changes may be successful so let enough time pass to monitor the change and what results from it. Celebrate the changes that are successful and continue them. 

About this Industry Leader:

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Christina Villarreal

Patient Experience Manager, Dental Associates


Christina Villarreal joined Dental Associates in 2007 and quickly rose to the position of Patient Experience Manager. Christina is constantly looking for ways to improve the patient experience at Dental Associates' 14 practices in Wisconsin. She works closely with every team member both in the practices and in corporate support roles to identify issues and implement strategies that will increase patient satisfaction and employee morale. Christina is usually in the practices, talking to team members and observing them in action. The hands-on knowledge leads to more effective training techniques and ensures everyone on the team understands the goals and how success is tracked. She uses a series of key performance indicators and reports the findings to the executive team monthly.


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