Whether you are just out of dental school, or you are a seasoned veteran with years of professional experience, you may be laboring under one of the biggest myths of dentistry. In my work as a dentist business coach, I see many clients who are working tirelessly to build their practices, yet they are not seeing any measurable growth. Far too many dentists feel the need to impress their patients with fancy language and cutting edge technology. Of course, accuracy and safety are essential to good dentistry. However, when it comes right down to it, your patient don’t really care about high falutin’ words or tools with space age names. They care about your attitude towards them, and that means listening. When you cannot really listen and communicate with your patients, you are going to lose business, plain and simple.
Take Some Advice from St. Francis
When you think about listening, how do you envision its role in your practice? Like many dentists (including myself in my younger days), you may think this means having your patients listen to you and choose the treatments that you recommend. Actually, listening doesn’t place a burden on your patients. It is a responsibility that you have to fulfill.
In the famous Prayer of St. Francis, Francis of Assisi wrote, “O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek…/ To be understood as to understand.” No matter what your religious leanings, this prayer offers fantastic advice for all walks of life. It is only when you understand your patients’ needs that you can offer truly satisfactory care. Ironically, when you learn to listen and understand your patient’s needs, they are more likely to listen to and understand you.
Are You Really Listening?
Take this scenario: Mrs. Bernhardt comes to you with a toothache. After taking x-rays and visually examining her tooth, you determine that she has a severe dental infection. Even a root canal will not be enough to save her tooth. You immediately launch into you diagnosis, and you start listing treatment options. You mention extraction, a bridge, or, alternatively, an implant. At the same time, you suggest that she replace her old amalgam fillings and have a veneer placed over a severely worn tooth. A bewildered Mrs. Bernhardt agrees to a bridge, but after you perform the treatment, you never see her – or her three kids – again. You provided a spot-on diagnosis and a beautifully crafted restoration. How did you lose four patients afterwards?
You weren’t listening. If you had really taken the time to get to know Mrs. Bernhardt and to listen to her needs, you would have known that her husband just lost his job, and money is tight. While she was desperate to end the pain of her toothache, she simply doesn’t have the cash to cover the unnecessary procedures. In fact, her dental infection is severe because she put off a checkup due to economic worries. After your breezy, over-confident diagnosis, Mrs. Bernhardt felt belittled and undervalued.
How to Begin
Cultivating the skill of listening takes time and determination. Try this. Pick one patient on your schedule for tomorrow. Rather than launching into a diagnosis first thing, ask him “How can I help you?” Then really listen. Let your patient tell you exactly what he is looking for. Ask questions, if needed, but really listen to the answers. Only after your patient has unburned himself should you explain his diagnosis and treatment options. However, because you will understand what your patient is really looking for, you will be able to tailor this conversation to meet his unique needs. With dedication, you will learn to do this with each of your patients. Then you are likely to enjoy greater patient compliance and practice growth.