“How much is that going to cost?” I remember hearing those words all too often during my time working at a successful Dental office as their Office Manager. Following the inquiry from the patient, I would hear a team member reluctantly uttering the treatment amount, as if they were ashamed, almost implying the amount was too much…. does this ring a bell in your practice?
Every day patients are faced with tough choices about the dental treatments we propose to them. When a patient hears they need a crown, it may come down to them deciding between the crown or upgrading their iPhone. An implant or saving for vacation. A veneer or new summer wardrobe. Patients have so many choices about dental products and services, other dentists, and honestly, other stuff they’d just much rather spend their hard-earned money on. How do we get them to choose the crown over the iPhone? How do we get them to YES? This is where effective communication and education comes into play! But we already communicate and educate our patients, right?
We know that most people make buying decisions based on emotions, then turn to rationalizing the decision with logic. Although too often it seems we’re busy telling patients instead of educating patients to understand the valuable reason behind what it is we’re suggesting to them. For example, we’ve all had the conversation with a patient about a doctor’s recommendation that they need a crown, yet we often overlook or get in too much of a hurry to take the time to explain WHY the crown is needed. Consider the patient’s point of view for a moment…. I came in to see the dentist for my scheduled appointment, which by the way, is one of my least favorite places to spend my time because I always feel compelled to lie about flossing regularly, and usually get the joyous news at the end of my cleaning that I get to come back to the office. This in turn means I will end up needing to take more time off from work, and of course, dip into my vacation fund so I can pay a copay and work towards meeting my deductible…lucky me (remember, this is from the patients’ point of view)! So yet again, the patient opts not to accept the treatment and the waiting game begins. Do you blame the patient for not being excited about this?
We know that at this stage of the game the patient will likely end up with one of the following scenarios happening with the tooth that we recommended a crown for. Scenario 1: the tooth will break further, now leading to a touchy conversation about coupling a buildup with the crown procedure (costing the patient more money – NOT A FUN CONVERSATION). Scenario 2: Worse yet, the tooth fractures significantly not leaving enough stable tooth structure to allow for the crown to be an option anymore, now we are looking at an extraction and implant. At this point we are absolutely dreading this conversation. The extraction is one thing, but the implant takes things to whole new level with the increased financial obligation that would be required from the patient now. Plus, the word implant can be scary for a patient to hear from the dental chair. Remember, patients already think that we are ‘out to get them.’ In addition to these scenarios, let’s not forget that another option is NOTHING could happen…it is a waiting game after all. This should lead us to wonder how much necessary patient treatment is walking out the door every day?
Let’s face it, the dental office is not a comfort zone for our patients. From their point of view, we invade their personal space, stick things in their mouth, ask them questions with our hands in their mouth, making it so they can’t answer, give them doses of radiation, deliver bad news, and then we reprimand them! It’s no wonder we are met with unwilling attitudes. So how do we overcome all of this? A starting point is our common goal of optimizing a patient’s dental experience through care and education. To achieve this, we not only need the knowledge to share, but we also need to be able to articulate the knowledge through concise communication and education with patients on what we know. Only then can we motivate our patients to put this information to use, thus, getting to YES with case acceptance. Patients need to understand the WHY before we can expect them to say yes and dip in to their coveted vacation fund.
This process is really pretty simple, start with clear communication amongst your team, then carry this over to your patient conversations. Think back to the crown example, educate me on what exactly the crown will do for my tooth (the WHY) so I understand the need for the crown, as opposed to other alternatives (leaving it alone, a possible filling to temporarily get them by, etc.), and what could happen if I wait. Be sure though not to make the make the patient feel guilted into scheduling the treatment ASAP… but be honest. Our role is to inform the patient on their options, but highlight the recommended option, and let them make their own decision. Lastly, provide the patient with a payment option outside of what may be covered by my insurance. You are in turn giving the patient the treatment recommendation and education, the why, and the means to afford this without busting in to the vacation fund (there are plenty of financing options available such as CareCredit). This can significantly increase your relationship with patients, which in turn builds a connection and level of trust between patients and your office.
Your main competitor is not the dentist down the street. No. Your main competitor are the hundreds of tempting choices your patients are faced with every day, choices on where to spend their hard-earned money. In a world full of enticing objects, the newest technology and a culture that thrives on instant gratification, it has never been more challenging to get to YES! Help your patients get to telling you, “YES!” every time, and to accepting the treatment you know they need. These Yes’s come with a relationship built on effective communication and trust in the team. Your patients are counting on you!