Would you like a step-by-step guide to increase the acceptance rate of your treatment proposals? Then read on here:
Traditionally, we make our diagnoses and present our findings along with our recommendations immediately after our examination of the patient.
This is not necessarily the most effective method if you want the patient to accept your treatment suggestions. Both when it comes to simple and complex treatments. If you haven't read my previous post on patient communication overview, I recommend you do so now.
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Of course, there are many elements in the process from the patient arriving at the practice until a treatment proposal is accepted. In this post, we look at how we can improve our understanding of the patient while providing the patient with information about our diagnoses that increases the likelihood of treatment acceptance.
The method I describe can be used for both simple and complex treatments. However, as I do not have space to write about all the issues that are essential around the presentation of complex treatments. I would recommend you to start with the simple treatments (<4.000€)
A patient's tendency to accept treatment starts even before the patient arrives at the dental practice. After that, the experience throughout the practice has a huge impact on the patient's motivation to say "yes". When we meet the patient in the practice, he or she is already in a state of mind that can support or undermine our message.
I will not go into this part of treatment acceptance today. If you are interested in this, I would recommend the course "Get to yes - patient communication 2.0", which I run throughout Scandinavia in collaboration with Straumann Group.
The typical negative momentum
When we give patients our recommendations right after our diagnosis, or after the end of a dental cleaning, we create a negative momentum that can be difficult to move on from.
In our traditional model of communication, we inform patients about our findings/diagnostics. This is equivalent to telling the patient everything that is wrong with the patient. Unfortunately, not many people are very good at receiving this kind of information open minded.
Creating a positive momentum
In order to influence the patient in a positive way, it is crucial to get clear about the patient's perceived concerns (needs) and how we can address them.
To achieve this, we can ask some questions about the issues raising our possible concerns and at the same time clarifying wether or not the circumstances and possible consequences of not treating the patient is something that concerns the patient or not.
We do this by giving examples from patients with similar conditions and then asking the patient if the consequences of not treating the condition is something that worries the patient.
The dialogue can be divided into 4 parts:
This is a question that clarifies whether the patient is aware of the condition we have diagnosed.
It is important that we ask the question in a way that does not give the patient the impression that we are judging the patient. There should be no agenda or recommendations attached to the question.
"Christian are you aware that you have some cracked fillings in your back teeth?"
This is a comparison or metaphor that helps the patient understand the condition we are talking about.
Photos or models can do the same in principle. They just take longer, compared to letting the patient create an image inside their head. Just as they don't always have the same ability to influence the patient as the patient's own thoughts.
"Broken fillings are like cracks in the foundation of a house that has been overloaded over the years. (Here's a close-up photo of your cracked fillings.)"
Here we provide a comparison of the patient's condition with other patients' similar conditions and information about the most likely consequences if the condition is not treated.
"Many of the patients I see who have chosen not to have their cracked fillings done find that the teeth crack, need root canal treatment or are lost"
Only here do we determine how much the patient cares, knowing the most likely disadvantage the condition will cause in the future if left untreated.
"Christian will it worry you if your teeth fracture or are lost in the future?"
A few important details
Note that there is no judgmental language. We try to keep our dialogue on a basis of curiosity only. By asking the patient in this way, we achieve several things:
The patient becomes aware of problems we have diagnosed
The patient will be aware of the possible consequences of not treating the diagnosed conditions
We become aware of whether or not the patient is concerned.
The latter is extremely important. Because only if the patient takes ownership of the problem will we be allowed to perform a given treatment. It is only now - after we have gone through this kind of dialogue - with everything we have diagnosed - that we present our recommendations to the patient.
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The order is important
Here, of course, we start by presenting the patient's concerns. Once we have presented what worries the patient, we move on to inform the patient that condition a,b,c that does NOT worry the PATIENT is something that worries US. So when the patient is ready to have this addressed, we are ready to help the patient.
I hope it is relatively clear how this kind of dialogue allows us to give the patient information about all diagnostic findings. At the same time we can give our recommendations WITHOUT being percived as judgmental.
Patient communication without a script
This is a huge difference from our traditional way of presenting our findings.
Having this dialogue is not easy the first few times - because it is different from what we are used to.
Conversely, the method is not impossible. Note that it is not a fixed script. You have the possibility to insert all the phrases and expressions you normally use to describe different conditions, illustrations and consequences. You just have to think about the order and the way you present your findings.
If the above doesn't make sense, feel free to write to me. You can also get a more comprehensive introduction at my patient communication courses.
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Many kind regards
Jesper Hatt DDS
Phone: +41 78 268 00 78