By Carol Dahlke, MSDH
As oral health care professionals, we've been trained to present treatment to patients with the expectation they'll easily accept our recommendations and immediately choose to treat their disease. We believe that because we have told them what they need, they'll schedule. However, providing value to the patient is a key component of patient treatment acceptance. Providing timely and appropriate communication will allow your patients to see the value in the treatment you recommend and increase treatment acceptance.
Value Comes from Team Preparation
The following scenario where patients aren't compelled to schedule treatment before they leave plays out daily in dental practices:
The hygienist is nearing the end of her appointed time with the patient and the dentist rushes in to do the exam. She reviews the digital images (radiographs) and tells the patient that she sees some decay on the mesial of the crown on #31. The decay is significant and she didn’t know if it would need endo and a buildup. It would for sure need crown lengthening and a new crown. She didn’t think she would have time to get the treatment plan together before the patient left because she had to go do another exam. She asks the hygienist to input the treatment. The hygienist has not been trained to do this, so she gives a look of desperation to the doctor. The patient has questions about the treatment, but sees how hurried the doctor is and does not want to ask.
The dentist in this situation didn't understand that the patient needs to value the treatment before they will accept it. If the patient does not schedule before they leave, there is a greater risk that they will not schedule at all.
The Importance of Showing Value
In a dental office, value can be shown in many ways – from the initial contact when answering the phone in a cheerful and enthusiastic manner, to the patient walking into the practice and greeting them with attention and a cheerful hello. Full engagement and attention to detail is important in the front office.
When the clinical treatment team seats the patient on time and verifies medical history in a caring and thoughtful manner, the patient is put at ease. This should include explaining the procedure and asking the patient if they have any questions. Staying with the patient and having a phatic conversation before the dentist comes into the room shows the patient value. The dental assistant can be multi-tasking until the doctor is ready to start their treatment (documenting the appointment, opening the cassettes, etc.).
When the dentist and the hygienist work in tandem during the hygiene appointment, it has a significant impact. When the hygienist completes their preliminary exam using co-discovery so the patient sees what the hygienist sees, they can point out any concerns they might have for the patient. The doctor should do a “break in” exam, finding a time after the hygienist’s preliminary exam and prior to their completion of the hygiene appointment. This is usually 12-30 minutes into the patient’s appointment (assuming a 60-minute appointment). The patient is now ready to hear the diagnosis from the dentist. When the patient has questions regarding the treatment needed, the hygienist can answer them. Now the hygienist becomes a trusted oral health care provider, not just someone who “cleans teeth.”
Handoff to the Business Team
After the clinical team has completed their procedures and is dismissing the patient to the business team, it's important the next steps are clear and concise.
A sample of a handoff would be: “Juanita, this is Sally. Dr. Merino has recommended a crown on #31. Sally is ready to schedule this appointment. I have scheduled her 6-month recare appointment. It was great seeing you today, Sally. Juanita will take great care of you. I look forward to seeing you at your next recare visit.”
Value should be shown throughout the dental appointment. The patient can see and feel value with interaction of every team member. When and how treatment needs are communicated to the patient will determine if they schedule your recommended treatment.
When patients see the value of the treatment you provide for them, they will choose to treat their oral disease.
Author: Carol Dahlke, MSDH is President and Founder of Optimum Dental Consulting and Coaching. She serves as faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry teaching periodontology technique and has provided 26 years of care to patients as a clinical dental hygienist, along with 12 years of dental practice management training to general dentists and periodontists throughout the United States and Canada.