If you know me, you know that I really like Corvettes; so much so that I’ve had eight different models since 1991.
And before you get worried…yes…this is an article about dentistry and not an article about cars! Keep reading and you’ll see.
Some time ago, I was having a lot of trouble with my 1998 Corvette, so I took it into the dealership for service. After they’d “diagnosed” the problem I had a talk with the technician.
Now, I am not afraid to admit that I was completely lost after the first five words out of his mouth. I mean, just because I own a Corvette doesn’t mean I know how to service one!
After his extensive technical explanation, full of terminology I didn’t understand, he asked if I had any questions. And, the first question that popped into my mind? “How much is this going to cost?”
Have you ever given a patient a beautiful explanation of what they needed only to find that their first (and sometimes only) question was: “How much is this going to cost?”
I don’t know about you, but prior to becoming an MGE client, this used to happen to me daily. I’d tell them how much, they’d say “I need to think about it,” and then…leave.
The scenario that rolled out in my office more than I would have liked was:
- A patient would call my office looking for help.
- I’d do an exam, diagnosis and treatment plan to help them.
- I would explain it (in what I thought was a thorough and comprehensive) manner.
- They would ask “How much?”
- I would tell them.
- They would then leave with the problem they came in for me to fix.
- I would wonder what was going on and possibly blame it on: “Low dental IQ,” “Teeth just aren’t important to Mr. or Ms.___________,” “It’s always about the money,” etc.
Any of this sound familiar?
Then I came to MGE and learned about communication and how good communication leads to understanding.
That car technician using technical terms to describe what was wrong with my car created a problem. I (the customer) didn’t understand what he was saying and in turn became confused and overwhelmed. In the end, the only semi-intelligent question I could come up with had to do with cost!
And we wonder why patients do this…
We can’t be sure what’s going on in their minds but you see why some of them might feel that your treatment plan is “too expensive” and all of a sudden they have to go “think about it.”
If patients understood why they needed the dentistry to the same degree we do as dentists, they would immediately grasp its importance and take action and start treatment. The problem: our understanding of what they need is based on years of training and experience. So the question becomes: How can we adequately improve their understanding of needed treatment? Specifically, how can we raise it enough for them to take action?
Well the first thing not to do is use big technical dental terms that they (most likely) aren’t familiar with. Sure, it might make us sound “knowledgeable,” but what’s the point if all it does if creates confusion, overwhelm and inaction with patients?
When I realized all of this after my MGE training, I changed my terminology when discussing dental problems and treatment.
Here are a few examples:
Technical Term Patient-Friendly Term
Carious Lesion ————- Cavity
Necrotic Pulp ————— Dead Nerve
Perapical Radiolucency — Pus pocket in the bone
Crown ———————– Cap—like the one you wear that goes around your head
Pontic ———————— False Tooth
And so on…
You get the idea. So, when the patient is not acting on fixing a problem consider that they might not understand it; if they understood they would act!
Now, you might think: “Well, if they don’t understand something, they’ll ask a question – right?” Not always, at least in my experience. Why? I really don’t know. I can guess: Maybe they think it will make them look bad. Maybe they think if you’re using the term, they should already know it. Nonetheless, you can see that moment, even if it is a nano-second where someone’s eyes glaze over after you use a term they didn’t “get.” Seeing this, you may even ask again: “Do you have any questions?” And they’ll tell you “Nope.”
So, make it simple, don’t even go down this road in the first place, make your explanation “patient friendly” from start to finish.
Now, even after I changed my vocabulary I would still get the “I need to think about it” response sometimes. So I began telling my patients (in a sincere and caring manner):
“I have found that often times when someone needs to think about it I haven’t done a very good job of explaining what is needed and why. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
It didn’t always work but it would frequently get them to start talking, and lo and behold: asking questions! This gave me a chance to clear up things that they didn’t understand.
Something else I found is that repeating the communication several times led to understanding. I often had it happen that after telling the patient three times that their tooth was cracked they would say “So are you saying that my tooth is cracked?” They don’t really want to hear it so it doesn’t get through. Obviously, I wouldn’t robotically repeat the same thing over and over. I might explain it a little differently each time – but in the end, I sometimes had to explain it three times before complete understanding sunk in.
And finally, I think it makes a big difference if all of this is coming directly from the doctor. The title of “Doctor” is an important one in society, and people generally feel that doctors are very busy and they really appreciate it when the doctor is taking time to explain it to them. I realize that this isn’t always possible but try doing it as much as you can and I think you’ll see a big difference. It is actually worthwhile to build time into your schedule specifically for presenting treatment.
Isn’t it worth 20 or 30 minutes of your time if it:
- Potentially doubles the patient’s likelihood of accepting and following through with their treatment plan?
- And more importantly results in the patient getting the treatment they need!
So doctor, in summary: take your time, don’t use big words, and repeat it at least three times before giving up or compromising. It’s all about achieving real understanding—the patient understands you, and you understand the patient. When that truly happens, I think you’ll find case acceptance is a lot easier.
Thanks for reading! You can learn more about case presentations at the free Effective Case Acceptance Seminar (register online here) next time we come to an area near you. Or if you really want to master this subject, come to Florida to attend the MGE Communication & Sales Seminars. Give us a call at (800) 640-1140 for more information.