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4.25.08 Issue #320 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

New Patients, New Treatment Opportunities
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Do you remember when it first occurred to you that patients were actually choosing to come to you? They might have received a referral from a friend or family member who was bragging about you. Maybe they were impressed with how you transformed a co-worker’s smile. Whatever the reason, the bottom line was that they wanted to come to your office, and it was rewarding to know that they chose your practice.

New patients present a host of opportunities for dental teams to truly shine… as well as fail miserably. The manner in which your office establishes an excellent positive relationship with every new patient from the first phone call to the time they drive away will set the tone for long and rewarding practice/patient relationship.

In working with dental teams through our Treatment Acceptance Training Program, we find that many have a system for how they handle new patient visits but few give much thought to creating an environment in which those new patients willingly and happily accept and complete recommended treatment. Oftentimes, they give little consideration to what today’s patients are expecting.

Many patients today expect more than just a routine visit. They are smart, savvy and much more aware of advances in dental care and treatment options. Numerous patients would love to change something about their smile or improve their oral health but few will verbalize those desires without prompting. Others have concerns but don’t want to appear foolish by raising them. Yet if new patients feel that the doctor and dental team are sincerely interested in their needs, wants and concerns, they are far more likely to be open to the treatments recommended. Follow these steps to set the tone for new patient treatment acceptance:

  • Create a comfortable, non-rushed environment when explaining treatment. Don’t have the schedule booked so tight that you are perceived as being in a rush. Patients need to feel that they are important and worthy of your time.
  • Explain in simple language the reasons procedures are necessary. Choose language that fits the patient’s educational level of understanding and speak slowly, using pictures to illustrate.
  • Explain the steps of the procedures, and how many appointments and how long each appointment will require. Explain to the patient how you will make her/him comfortable during treatment and what options are available, such as anesthetic.
  • Ask the patient questions to determine if the patient has any false ideas about treatment. (Many patients still think that root canal therapy involves removing the roots.) Use educational tools, like video or other visual aids. When using video or other educational aids, summarize what the patient has viewed and ask if there are any areas that need further explanation.
  • Be empathetic to the patient’s concerns about the condition of the teeth. Don’t make him/her feel that his/her mouth is a “mess.” 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.
  • 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.
  • Look the patient in the eye when discussing treatment. Sit at the same level as the patient and lean slightly forward to show interest and care. You will be able to listen to and observe the patient’s response more readily.
  • Smile and nod your head in understanding as the patient responds to the presentation. This is proof to the patient that you are truly listening to each word said.
  • Never turn away from the patient while they are speaking. Not only is this rude, but it also shows that you are not listening to what the patient is telling you.

Presenting treatment to patients requires skill and understanding of patients’ needs. Many people learn these skills by trial and error, which can be quite costly. If treatment acceptance is a struggle among either new or existing patients, or both, it’s time to find out exactly where this critical system is breaking down.

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