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Acceptance of complex treatment

Why is it relatively easy to get patients to accept simple treatments and difficult to get them to accept the complex ones?

In this post we look at a fundamental difference between presenting simple and complex treatments that is important to know if you want to increase your case acceptance rates.

The personal relationship and the ability to show sincere empathy and understanding have a very important impact on the acceptance rate of the complex treatments we recommend. We also look at why this is so.

Heart shaped in cocoa pods - illustrates empathy and caring

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The difference between simple and complex treatments

Personally, I'm a big believer in making something complex as simple as possible. So instead of starting to describe a lot of differences in all the types of people we might meet in the dental practice. I'd rather give you an extremely simple way that can quickly help you decide how to communicate with each patient.

It's very simple.

First, we need to define whether the patient has a simple or a complex treatment need.

Simple treatments are, as a rule of thumb, treatments that cost less than €4,000

Complex treatments are, as a rule of thumb, treatments that cost more than 4000€.

The price range, that defines whether it is a simple or complex treatment, depends somewhat on the geographical location of the practice and the patient mix.

How can it be so simple?

The answer is relatively straightforward.

Simple treatments

Hatt Consulting communication triangle for dentists

The simple treatments come at a cost that most people can fit into an everyday budget. In other words, it is an investment that is manageable. You could also call them treatments that are similar to simple transactions.

With this type of treatment, it is appropriate to apply level 1-3 of the communication triangle. These treatments can be easily explained with logical and rational arguments as to why it is necessary to have a given treatment performed. Here, patients are interested in having a skilled professional perform the treatment.

It should be noted that every dentist and dental hygienist is perceived as a skilled and qualified professional in most of the Western world. Among patients, quality dental care is taken for granted in any dental practice!

Practical team approach

This knowledge can be utilised in the reception. If a 32 year old patient calls the dental practice and asks for an appointment with the hygienist, because he/she is used to having check-ups with a hygienist every six months. And states that x-rays were taken 6 months ago and there have been no problems with the teeth in the last 5 years. Then it is probably not necessary to set aside a lot of extra time for the dentist to build a deeper relationship with this patient. It's a relationship that may well come over time. Especially because the visit to this patient is seen as a transaction rather than a more comprehensive need to be met.

Complex treatments

These treatments require an investment which, for most people, entails a need for financial planning. This means that treatment is not only complex from an odontological point of view, but also in terms of financial and private priorities.

Patients with complex dental conditions have often been through several parts of the health care system. They have seen how they have been exposed to several experts who have passed them on to the next expert, who may not have seemed very interested in the patient as a human being.

These are patients who have heard about all the blessings of fluoride toothpaste, dental floss and interdental brushes. They have heard all the logical and rational arguments for why they should have done something about their teeth a long time ago.

Example of practical application

At the reception desk, they are also relatively easy to detect and thus allocate the correct time and attention. For example, when a 53 year old bricklayer calls and asks for an appointment because something doesn't feel quite right. It is disclosed that it has been more than 7 years since the last dental visit. Not because the patient is nervous or scared, but because the patient is just out of rhythm and now wants something done about the problems.

No need for rational arguments

Big sister empathetically holding an arm around shoulders of little brother as they walk along a long straight road

This group of patients does NOT need more logical arguments as to what and why they should have a certain type of treatment performed. Above all, they need to experience a practitioner who expresses that he/she can help them and will continue to be there for the patient. Not only throughout the treatment process, but also afterwards.

These patients demand understanding and empathy. It is no use assuming a professional role and trying to convince them with the power of the white coat. Lack of authenticity, such as this, is recognised immediately and discourages this group of patients. It makes them say things like: "I'll have to think about that".

When dentists who are known for performing extensive and complex treatments often come up with the statement: "Patients don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care". Then there is something to it. But note that this applies primarily to patients with complex treatment needs.

How does it apply in practice?

For patients with simple treatment needs, we just do what we normally do - more or less.

There is no doubt that the more costly a treatment becomes - even among the simple ones - the more important the relationship between dentist and patient becomes. It's all about trust.

Confident leap from rock to water

That's one reason why the old boss who has owned a dental practice for 25 years has a much easier time getting his patients to accept treatment than the new associate dentist who has been in the practice for 1-3 years. Because the older colleague has spent 25 years getting to know his patients. In other words, trust has been built up between the dentist and the patient over many years.

In the same way, new patients coming to the old dentist already have a form of trust in the dentist. Indeed, the brand of the head dentist is often so strong that the new patients who come are frequently referred by existing patients.

The challenges of the young dentist

All this is absent from the young colleague. But if you're a relatively young dentist yourself, here's what you can do about it. If you work with it in a structured way. It is possible to accelerate the trust between dentist and patient in a way. It doesn't take much more than 30 minutes for the young dentist to build as much trust as his older colleague has spent 25 years building. I show how to do this in my courses "Get to yes - patient communication 2.0"

But fundamentally, there is no need to change the way we communicate when recommending simple treatments. For simple treatments, it is effective when we use our skills from levels 1-3 of the communication triangle. Here we are talking to the logical part of the brain.

Presentation of complex treatments

All this changes radically when we recommend complex treatments.

It is no longer enough to use logical and rational arguments to justify a comprehensive treatment. There is a need to become much more aware of the patient's life in general first and then, together with the patient, find a way to fit the desired dental treatment into the patient's life.

This requires a very different approach to communication with the patient than we are used to. Here we apply the competences of levels 4 and 5 of the communication triangle. We speak to the emotional part of the brain. In order to present everything the patient needs to know in the fewest possible words, we need to prepare our presentation of the treatment. Our presentation is given in such a way that we constantly ensure that we are conveying a message in the order in which the patient is ready to receive the information, while at the same time being told about and giving recommendations on everything that does not initially concern the patient, but does concern us. Only in this way can we achieve a favourable situation in which the patient can make an informed decision without being put off by our presentation.

Personality profiles

The next blog post is about why you don't need to worry so much about personality profiles and psychological models to communicate effectively and empathetically with your patients.

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Dentist Jesper Hatt from Hatt Consulting GmbH

Kind regards

Jesper Hatt DDS

T: +45 6127 2228


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