Ask any adult you know why they stopped or would stop seeing a dentist and the answer would most probably be one of these three: problems with communication, limited treatment option, lack of information about treatments and procedures.
If patients feel like they are lying on their backs with open mouths and without a clue about what’s going to happen, they are likely to rebel. Also, when their needs or their expectations are not met, you can expect that their response will be anywhere between being uncooperative to as bad as filing a lawsuit. That is why it is important that you talk to your patients – not just to avoid lawsuits, but to make sure that you are able to build a lasting relationship with your patient.
Patient-Centered, Not Dentist-Centered
If you want your patients to stay with you, you should focus on making your relationships patient-centered instead of dentist-centered. How are they different? A dentist-centered relationship is focused on clinical data, technical details, and strict reinforcement of rules. On the other hand, a patient-centered relationship is all about the needs of the patient, addressing fears of treatment, answering questions about the diagnosis, resolving concerns about schedule, cost, and more. This approach is what your practice needs to achieve success.
You might be thinking “How and where do I start?” Well, putting yourself in the shoes of your patient is a good way to start. It is very important that you fully understand that every patient arrives at your practice with needs that are unique to him or her. In some cases, a patient enters the dental office with anxiety and somewhat mistrusts the dental process. This kind of patient may try to avoid you or limit communication with you or with your staff. If you ask questions, this patient may respond with only what he or she thinks you need.
Once the patient gets past that level, he or she may be able to communicate surface problems and issues like “It’s hard to chew” or “My tooth hurts”. Probing deeper could help you find that patient’s subconscious needs and concerns. These would often reveal a need that is more than a cure for a specific dental problem but to improve other aspects of their life through dental procedure. For example, you may hear the patient say “I don’t want to feel conscious when I talk or smile” Or “I don’t want to be teased about my teeth anymore”.
Why is it important that you pay attention to those types of statements? It’s because dentists may deal with specific dental problems, but patients make their decisions based on such perspectives. If you tell a patient that a specific procedure will address the problem he has with two of his teeth, and he thinks the cost is quite high, he may not push through with it. You know what will make a difference? Telling him about the other positive effects of getting the procedure done like a more attractive smile, more confidence when speaking, and easier chewing, the he’d happily commit.
The needs of the patient should be determined during a pre-clinical interview that should be conducted in a warm and friendly manner, instead of a cold or intrusive way. This interview will set the tone for what come next which are the clinical examination and the consultation. During the consultation you should be able to reveal your short and long term treatment plan for the patient and this is when the patient commits. When he does, it’s not just a commitment to the treatment you provide but to a positive relationship with you and your team.
Providing the highest quality dental restorations, as well as having state-of-the-art technology and a fun and beautiful office contribute to the patient’s decision to keep going to your practice or to go and look somewhere else – but you should not forget that it’s also the patient’s experience and the treatment he or she gets that will make one a patient for life.