Your first goal is to protect and enhance your patients’ health. However, you want to do so in a way that is in keeping with his or her needs. As a dental coach, I’m not just talking about health needs, although these are certainly important. I’m also talking about emotional needs, aesthetic goals, financial concerns, scheduling issues, and all the other factors that can influence how a patient feels about dental care. Your job, therefore, is not just to improve their dental functionality. Your responsibility is to find out what a patient really wants and to guide them in making active, informed choices about their care.
Ask and You Shall Receive
The best way to find out your patients’ needs is simple: ask. Too often, we are convinced that we know what patients want. The emphasis is placed on advanced technology, sedation, and “pain-free” procedures. However, sometimes these concerns are not the top priority. The only way to know what is most important is to ask.
Improving Your Communication Skills
To really get the answers to your questions, you must learn good communication skills. First, you need to develop your ability to listen. If you go into an appointment thinking you know all the answers, neither you nor the patient will derive any benefit from the visit. When you ask a question, pay attention to the nuances of the answer, and let your patient’s answer guide you as you develop their treatment plan. Being a good listener also means “living in the silence.” Give your patients space to think and frame their answers. This time will help them feel comfortable, and it will also give them the chance to develop a more precise answer.
Second, you must be able to direct the conversation. Often a patient will want to talk about things that seemingly have nothing to do with the task at hand. Don’t change the subject. Learn to listen and glean information from this concern, which seems to be at the forefront of your patient’s mind. This is a skill that takes time to learn, but it can have enormous benefits for your practice as a whole.
What Questions Should You Be Asking?
Of course, the best listening in the world will get you nowhere if you do not know how to ask the right questions. When talking to your patients, it is important to be non-judgmental. This does not simply mean not judging your patient’s for their lack of hygiene or their dental phobia. It also means respecting their intelligence level, not talking down to them, and not treating them as if you have all the answers. (You don’t.)
Good questions should also guide your patients, not impose an answer. Your clearly stated questions should be open-ended, allowing your patients to answer honestly. You should never ask a leading question that promotes your best interests, over those of your patient.
So what should these questions be? Let the situation guide you. Scripted questions will only make a patient feel awkward and uncomfortable. In general, however, you can ask:
- What is your ideal treatment outcome?
- Other than providing service in this particular situation, how can I improve your overall dental health?
- Are there any changes I can make to improve your experience or enhance your dental wellness?
- What is your top concern regarding your dental health?
- How will you know that you are making a financially sound investment in your smile?
Communication classes or work with a dental coach can teach you vital listening skills and help you learn how to ask the right questions in any given situation.