Dr. Leslie Pasco knows first-hand how discouraging low case acceptance can be. A few years out of dental school, she struck out on her own and purchased an established practice from a retiring dentist. As a young dentist treating the patients of the previous dentist, Dr. Pasco felt a lack of trust from her patients. Despite her best efforts to prescribe professional care, her patients would often tell her what treatment they needed – or didn’t need.
Dr. Pasco was miserable. She struggled to connect with her patients and even considered leaving dentistry altogether. Yet before giving up, she decided to explore a new direction. It soon became clear that the problem was not with the patients but with her communication methods. To gain her patients’ trust and get their ‘yes’, Dr. Pasco needed to create a conversation around the prescribed dental treatment, and talk with the patient about their dental needs.
Today, she is not only a successful dentist with more than two decades of experience; she teaches seminars to other dentists on improving their case acceptance rate.
Here are Dr. Pasco’s 5 communication tips to build trust with patients and increase case acceptance:
1. Talk less, listen more
Half of communication is listening, so pay attention. Two-way communication is key to building trust. Ask your patients questions and give their answers thoughtful engagement and consideration. When you listen, you gain important information which can help you respond appropriately.
2. Mirror the patient
While listening to the patient, keep your attention on their body language and mirror them. If they are leaning into you, lean back. If they are slouching in the chair, take a seat and have a relaxed posture. Seeing you mirror their behavior will make them feel connected, understood, and more receptive to what you have to tell them.
3. Ask questions
Some patients may not understand the importance of the procedure or why they should accept a treatment plan. This is especially true when the treatment is expensive or requires them to take time off from work. They may fear the discomfort or pain of the procedure or dismiss a treatment plan because it only applies to non-visible posterior teeth. Other patients may tell you what you want to hear, that they will make an appointment on their way out, but will tell the front desk that you said their treatment could wait.
Until you know the patient’s feelings about dental health, you won’t know how to address their anxieties, concerns, or lack of knowledge and, in turn, won’t be able to give them the information they need to overcome their initial resistance to treatment.
You can uncover reasons for objections and provide a more informed solution by asking open-ended questions, such as:
“How do your dental checkups usually go?”
“Is there anything about your teeth you would change if you could?”
“Have you noticed any changes in your teeth lately? How do you feel about that?”
“If you had to decide between saving a tooth or losing it, which would you choose? Why?”
Knowing how the patient feels about their dental health will help you understand your patient’s priorities for their dental health and their openness to accepting treatment.
4. Show, don’t tell
If you’re aware of issues with a patient’s dental health to which they deny or downplay, let them see the problem in living color. By using an intraoral scanner, you can instantly show your patient the reality of what is going on in their mouth.
While Dr. Pasco emphasizes asking patients questions about their teeth, she knows that not all are aware of their dental health needs. “You may ask a patient something like, ‘How do your teeth feel to you?’ [and they’ll reply] ‘Oh, yeah, they feel fine.’ Meanwhile, there’s a mess back there,” says Dr. Pasco. “Well, take a picture of the mess! Show them the pictures and see what the patient says. Chances are, they’re going to say, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t realize it was that bad.'”
Full color, high-resolution images can have a profound emotional effect on a patient, transforming suspicion or reluctance to accept care to willingness and even enthusiasm.
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5. Create agreement
No one likes to be contradicted, and patients are no exception. Be wary of denying a patient’s experience and eroding their trust. For example, a patient may say, “I have soft teeth,” and the dentist will reply that there’s no such thing as soft teeth. While this may be true, it is still something the patient believes and, when disputed, makes the patient feel their dentist does not understand or listen to them.
A better response would be to say, “You know, I hear that a lot,” and open the conversation to their symptoms, which may indicate more probable health issues. Responding in a way that is affirming builds trust and loyalty, and may open up further opportunities to learn about how they feel about their dental health.
Understanding creates loyal patients
Listening to your patient’s concerns, feelings, and opinions and showing them the problems you have identified demonstrates that you are tailoring their care plan to their healthcare goals and needs. Far from believing you are trying to sell them on unnecessary procedures, your patients will understand that your first priority is their wellbeing. Your patient’s trust will open doors to that ‘Yes!’