I think you would agree that one of the most important elements of your practice is whether patients accept the care you offer them.
It would be easy for me to tell you “my way” of presenting treatment, but ultimately it needs to be “your way” of presenting treatment, using your available skills and identifying areas that you see you need improvement in order to be more effective.
Presenting treatment is not about “getting the patient to do something”; it is about helping the patient be as healthy as they want to be … not what you want them to do for whatever reasons you may have. I certainly don’t suggest letting monetary gain be a guiding principle!
Yes, it is our professional duty to inform the patient of their conditions after a thorough and complete review of all their records, discuss all possible treatment options, discuss the pros and cons of each treatment, provide treatment estimates for each treatment option, and do the moral and ethical actions as dental professionals we are legally bound to provide.
However, that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the manner in which treatment is presented so as to ultimately help the patient choose appropriate care, build confidence and trust in you, and enjoy all the benefits that come along with presenting treatment in a meaningful, helpful, and beneficial way.
What are common mistakes I hear as a professional coach and as a practicing dentist?
1. Failure to do a complete diagnosis. Not only do you need complete records – not just some radiographs – you need a thorough clinical evaluation, review of past medical and dental histories, and an open discussion of the patient’s concerns, wants and needs. These are important elements of the diagnosis, and failure to complete these can lead to all sorts of problems.
2. Failure to hear the patient. If you will take the time to listen to what the patient is telling you, nearly 100% of the time you will be able to understand where they are coming from and what they want – even the diagnosis of a pending problem. Along with listening without interruptions and distractions, asking open-ended, non-leading questions will help you more than you might imagine – even helping you avoid misunderstandings and lawsuits.
3. Hurrying the presentation process. If you were the patient, would you want the doctor to walk into the room, have you open your mouth, then proceed to tell you what you “need” to do? I think not. You would probably never return, even if you knew you needed treatment. Patients are people, and they expect and deserve your undivided attention and the time to understand their needs, problems, and concerns and what can be done to resolve them. They deserve your due respect, and that will take some time … not the 3 minutes you may not have in your schedule when you walk into the dental hygiene treatment room to diagnose and present treatment. You’ll want to figure out another way to spend the appropriate amount of time with your patients.
4. Having someone besides you present the treatment needs. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes: would you want a nurse to tell you that you needed a triple bypass surgery and that it needed to be scheduled now? I think not. No one can answer the questions or help the patient understand the need for treatment better than you. Lack of solid communication here can be troublesome. Remember, you are liable for anything your employees tell a patient!
5. Confusing the patient. Most patients have very little understanding of dental health, and the technical words and phrases often used are confusing to most. Find ways to help the patient understand the treatment. Yes, video clips and other media can help, but nothing substitutes for one-to-one conversations.
6. Rushing the presentation process. One of the top problems in all of healthcare today is rushing patients through their care. People need time to digest and understand what their problems are and what they want to do. Using 1970’s selling techniques may provide some short-term increase in production, but it is also likely to cause problems later on. Remember, what’s important to you may not be at all what’s important to them. Meet them where they are right now, provide the care they want, and they will later be open to accepting the care you may be able to offer them to be even healthier than they are presently.
What areas can you improve upon? Becoming a better listener? Changing your protocol for treatment presentations? Re-working your schedule to allow for adequate time to communicate about treatment needs? Others?
By taking the time necessary to provide the type of communication you yourself would want as a patient, you’ll not only grow your practice, but you’ll develop the trust and confidence which is crucial to an excellent doctor-patient relationship and all of the rewards that go along with it.