Who's Responsible for Treatment Acceptance? You… and Everyone Else
Doctor, did it ever occur to you that the manner in which your Scheduling Coordinator talks to patients affects treatment acceptance? Probably not. Many dental teams view treatment presentation/acceptance as a one-time event involving the doctor and/or another member of the clinical team. In actuality, staff lay the foundation for treatment acceptance or rejection in virtually every patient interaction.
Have you and your team instilled in the patient trust, knowledge, and respect for the team’s skills that will enable them to pursue recommended treatment without reservation? Or have you subtly and unwittingly undermined their confidence? Consider the following:
If there is a sense that the right hand and the left hand don’t know what the other is doing, this erodes trust and confidence. For example, the patient schedules an appointment and the business employee accidentally books it on the wrong day. If this happens more than occasionally, it’s wearing away the trust patients have in your practice. If procedures are regularly interrupted because necessary products and instruments are not at hand, it becomes disconcerting to patients, and they begin to question the competency of the team.
Most patients today base major decisions, such as extensive dental treatment, on multiple factors - including full comprehension of the need for treatment; the importance of the procedure to them in terms of quality of life, aesthetics, or health; possible ramifications if they choose to procrastinate or elect an alternative procedure; payment options, and how they feel about the practice as a whole. They will judge your practice on virtually every system that they encounter - from how staff talk to them on the phone, the use of modern technology, payment and insurance procedures, and many more.
If the ancillary systems are functioning well, the treatment presentation procedures will likely need little more than some additional burnishing, such as:
1. A relaxed, non-rushed environment where treatment is explained. Patients need to feel that you have the time for their questions.
2. A clear understanding of the procedures, not “dental-ese.” Explain the procedures using language that fits the patient’s educational level of understanding.
3. A plan. Clarify the steps required for the procedures, number of appointments necessary, and how long each appointment will take.
4. A level of comfort. Explain to the patient how you will make her/him comfortable during treatment and what options are available, such as anesthetic.
5. A chance to share “what they’ve heard” about this or that procedure. Ask the patient questions to determine if they have any misperceptions about treatment. Many patients still think that root canal therapy involves removing the roots.
6. The opportunity to actually see what will be done. Use educational tools, such as video or other educational aids, to summarize what the patient has viewed and ask if there are any areas that need further explanation. Do not leave them in a room alone with a video presentation. The patient is not buying the procedure. They are investing in the dental team.
7. A non-judgmental environment. Be empathetic to the patients’ concerns about the condition of the teeth. Patients who have postponed dental care are often embarrassed and don’t want to be perceived as neglectful or hopeless. Encouragement coupled with kind words can build trust and respect.
8. An understanding of options available. Explain alternatives to the treatment. Make sure the benefits and the possible risks to the procedures are understood. Informed consent in writing is necessary when there are risks and when the outcome could be less than favorable.
9. A candid conversation. Most patients are aware of some general risks in treatment so they are waiting for you to be frank about what, if anything, they might be faced with as a result of the treatment. If they are given advantages and disadvantages, research shows that patients are more willing to trust you to deliver their care. Patients always feel better when they know the benefits and risks of proposed treatment.
10. Realistic and reasonable payment options. Studies show that patients avoid dental treatment due to cost more than pain. Yet if they feel that the costs measure up to the service received there is no complaint. Many patients will not question fees if the practice has demonstrated that they can deliver superior service. From the first phone call to dismissal, consistently demonstrate the “value” for services that the patient is receiving.Give your patients every reason to proceed with recommended treatment.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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