If you want to improve the uptake of treatment by your patients, there are a few easy things you can do to present the options in the most effective way.
There are some common traits that I see on a regular basis – but, if you want patients to see the value in your treatment plans, you have to think like they do and present information appropriately.
Here are a few things to avoid and some ways in which you can tweak your communication to get your message across as clearly as possible, with heart and conviction:
1 – Don’t do all of your talking in the dental chair
If you currently greet the patient and ask them straightaway to sit in the dental chair, stop it immediately!
Think about this for a second…you go to the doctor and after handing your coat over to the nurse who beautifully hangs it on the coat stand, you are encouraged to lie down on a bed in the middle of the room. The doctor sits behind or to the side of you (they are in your personal space) and starts asking you what is wrong.
It wouldn’t happen! Why? Because to find out why you are in the room, they have to ask you some questions.
In dentistry, many clinicians that I see are too quick to get the patient laid back in the chair and get their hands on the teeth! Instead, try sitting the patient in a regular chair in the room somewhere first.
Ask the questions you need to in order to find out what is important about the look, shape, alignment, colour, etc. of their teeth BEFORE you sit them in the dental chair – this will help you with the next part.
2 – Use plain English during the exam
So, the patient is now in the chair and you are looking at what the patient’s concern(s) are. As you are speaking to your nurse, explain what you see dentally in words that the patient will understand.
Do not use dental terminology. Remember that this is the PATIENT’S exam – not yours – so they should understand everything that you are saying.
Imagine taking your car to the garage for a repair and the mechanics start talking about the inner workings of your engine and you have no idea what they are going on about! Then, they say they can fix it but it will cost £1,000 – how do you think you would feel?! I know what my reaction would be!
So often, this is exactly how patients feel when they sit up and are given the list of treatment they need. Instead, explain what you see in the patient’s mouth in words they will understand and then describe it, e.g. ‘I can see you have a big hole in the tooth just here that is going to give you a lot of pain if we don’t do something to help you pretty quickly’.
3 – The explanation and value creation
Once you have explained your findings, it’s time to talk options. A lot of people struggle with this part as it relies on them ‘selling it’ to the patient. In reality this isn’t the case. Don’t ‘sell it’.
Instead, start by asking what is most important to the patient, for example, is it more important to the patient to simply have an amalgam filling and fix the problem or would they prefer for it to look aesthetically pleasing as well, and therefore have a tooth-coloured filling? You can only present the value of something, if you know what the patient values – because we all value different things. Start by asking questions and then talk about the options that fit what the patient values.
For example, ‘Jane, you’ve told me that keeping your teeth healthy to avoid having to have teeth taken out is so important to you. Because of this, I really think you would benefit from seeing Julia our Hygienist every three months as she will be able to clean away all of the bad bacteria that is causing the redness and bleeding you are having around your gums right now. Without that, there is a good chance that the gum disease will get worse and you may lose teeth – which we both don’t want. You can actually see the Hygienist every three months on our quarterly hygiene schedule which costs £xx.xx – would you like me to make that happen for you and get you booked in?’
In closing, think like a patient. Find out what they value and don’t shy away from carefully linking what the patient values to the treatment you can help them with.
If you approach every patient like this, you will get more people seeing the value in the treatment you suggest.