Tackling The Not-So-Tough Questions That Keep Patients From Treatment
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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With so many demands on busy dental teams to stay on schedule by getting patients into the chair, through their appointments and on their way, it’s easy to understand why doctors and staff may be somewhat reluctant to spend any more time than they feel is absolutely necessary on seemingly non-pressing issues, particularly patient communications.
After all, most dental teams believe they are thorough and that they tell patients everything they need to know. If patients ask questions, the staff answers them without hesitation. Unfortunately, during a typical busy day, employees don’t communicate as well as they like to think they do. Worse yet, they don’t even realize there is a problem, which can cost practices dearly in patient retention.
The fact is that patients want more information than they are usually given. They also want information that they are reluctant to ask for. And here’s the tricky part: It’s up to you to make sure that patients get the information you probably don’t even know they want.
The good news is that your efforts will make a huge difference in patient opinion of the doctor and the practice. Patients who have their questions answered are far more satisfied with their care and the dental staff than those who don’t. In actuality, addressing this often overlooked patient need is much easier than teams realize.
Step back and assess if you and your team are more focused on the procedure than you are on the patient. Are you genuinely interested in ensuring that patients have a complete understanding of things, or would you really rather just get down to business and expect them to trust your good judgment? Be honest. Are you of the mind that if patients have concerns or questions they would surely raise them?
Understandably, many dentists are firmly convinced that if patients have any concerns or questions they wouldn’t hesitate to speak up. Think again, Doctor. Oftentimes patients have questions or want more information but they either feel foolish raising the issue or they don’t want to bother you, the busy doctor. They are not sure how to ask the question exactly or how to raise the issue, but something is gnawing at them.
Consider long-time patient Jim. He needs a crown and has agreed with your treatment recommendation the last couple of times he’s been in the practice. But he just doesn’t seem to be getting around to actually scheduling the visit. It’s highly likely that he has some unanswered questions and concerns that are gnawing at him and, for whatever reason, he’s not comfortable bringing them up, at least not without some prompting.
It may not be necessary at every visit, but make sure your patients know that you are always open to their questions. You want to know if they have even the slightest concerns. It starts with your asking them a few simple questions: “How do you feel about this?” “How does this fit into your plans for your overall health?” “Do you have any more questions or concerns that you’d like to discuss?”
Maybe Jim is anxious about the procedure because of a negative experience years ago. Perhaps he’s concerned about what it’s going to cost. His wife’s company has been laying off employees the last few months, maybe, and Jim’s trying to watch the family budget. Or maybe he’s simply the kind of person whose attitude is that he’s not going to address the problem until he absolutely has to.
Whatever the reason, Jim’s not moving forward with necessary treatment. He’s playing Russian Roulette with his oral health and, as healthcare providers, you and your team need a clear understanding of why. If you know the answer to that, there’s a strong possibility you can address it and help Jim to move forward on treatment.
Next week, when patient relations go south, smooth talk them back on track.
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