Deborah Bell shares her advice on the best ways to boost treatment uptake…
All dental practices are unique, but at the heart of every one is delivering quality treatment that improves patients’ oral health and wellbeing. And, of course, treatment is also a main source of revenue, so it can be frustrating when patients don’t take up the plan.
I’ve worked in NHS and private dental practices for 15 years, and dentistry for a further 10 years. Below, I share what I have learned throughout my career from my own practices as well as others, and from the extensive ethical selling training I’ve undertaken about how to boost treatment uptake.
Fact-find from the start
It can be very easy to fall into the habit of assuming that you know what the patient needs to have, or that they won’t be interested in anything beyond a check-up or emergency treatment. From the very initial conversation it is vital to ask open questions to find out what they want. This can be in the form of questions such as why they called or what they want to achieve from visiting your practice.
Questionnaires that can be filled in in the waiting room are also a simple way of gaining extra information about how you can best give the patient what they want. Often patients expect clinicians to tell them what they need, but this is also the case vice versa. However, by spending some extra time to find out what’s really important to the patient you can offer a treatment plan that is more likely to achieve what they want, and therefore be taken up.
Identify the team’s roles
Everyone needs to know what information they need to extract as part of discovering what matters most to the patient. There also needs to be a system or process so that information can be shared with the rest of the team.
I believe that treatment plans are more likely to be accepted when they are proposed by the dentist in the surgery, as patients are more accepting of their authority. However, to increase the chance of the patient going ahead, the dentist needs to be as well-informed as possible, and every member of the team has a part to play in building up a full story of the patient.
Don’t be scared of the f-word (finance)
It is important that the dentist goes through all the possible options in terms of treatment, but also in terms of payment. The discussion of money should follow after the exploration of treatment, when the patient is already aware of all the benefits, otherwise you risk putting them off before they understand the value of what you’re offering.
A dental payment plan that can spread the cost or offer discounts on certain treatments can help remove potential financial barriers. Offering other finance options, such as the ability to pay in instalments, can also help patients to say yes, especially for higher value treatments. People can often feel awkward when it comes to discussing money, but it is simply another element of the treatment plan and a necessary part of helping your patient to improve their oral health.
Recommend rather than sell
Encouraging your team to think of your treatment plan as a recommendation, just as they would suggest using a fluoride toothpaste or floss, rather than a sales pitch can help to remove any awkwardness. In both of these circumstances, the practice team is acting in the best interests of the patient and making recommendations based on their knowledge and expertise.
Dismantling any potential barriers is vital to clearing the way for patients to take up treatment, and the key to this is often as simple as exploring all the treatment and finance options with patients through open and clear communication.