Increasing Case Acceptance Through a Healthy Patient-Practice Partnership
If you're a dentist who has been in practice for at least a few years, you likely have more dentistry in your patient records waiting to be done than you could ever accomplish in the coming year. The truth is, most dental practices need to do better at helping more patients say "yes" to recommended or necessary treatment.
The top barriers to patients coming to the dentist and proceeding with treatment, according to the American Dental Association, are cost, fear, and convenience.1 Thus, dental professionals need to recognize the importance of inspiring patients to develop a mindset that sees the value of partnering with their practice for ongoing oral care, oral health, and well-being.
The author's firm believes in establishing with patients what it calls a "healthy patient-practice partnership." To do so, the dental team must continuously work on building four integral pillars to help patients identify their oral health goals, hear the practice's recommendations clearly, and become motivated to find a way forward to receive the desired or needed treatment.
These four pillars of a healthy patient-practice partnership are trust, need, urgency, and value. A dental practice has likely missed the mark on one or more of these pillars if a patient: (A) leaves the practice without proceeding with diagnosed and recommended treatment, (B) "no-shows" a scheduled appointment, or (C) falls out of active status in the practice. In order to build these pillars and begin having more consistent and successful case acceptance results, practices can adapt the following three strategies:
1. Work as a Team on Patient-Facing Communication Skills
Dental practices are service-oriented businesses and, as such, must work on elevating their verbal skills to reflect the quality of care and quality of services they want their patients to perceive and expect. Higher quality can be reflected through improving verbal skills by changing some of the wording used in communication with patients. For example, instead of saying, "scheduling an appointment with Dr. Jameson," team members can say, "reserving 90 minutes of Dr. Jameson's time for the patient's restorative treatment." Instead of the terms "cost" and "price," say "fee" or "investment." All minimizing words and phrases, such as "kind of," "sort of," "a little," and "maybe," should be eliminated, as they diminish the importance and value of the diagnosis and/or recommended treatment and can negatively impact the patient's perception of the necessity for care.
In addition to elevating verbal skills, dental teams need to improve and practice their listening skills and make concerted efforts to be fully engaged in patient conversations. Such qualities can help build a patient's confidence in the treatment being presented and make them more comfortable in exploring ways forward with the treatment. An adequate amount of time and a relaxed space in which to have these integral conversations are important so that the patients can both see value in the recommended treatment and trust the team's recommendations.
2. Use Visual Aids in Patient Education and Treatment Presentations
Most people consider themselves visual learners; therefore, it is advantageous for dental practices to take this into consideration when creating a patient experience and treatment presentation process. This process should aim to educate, motivate, and ultimately activate patients into treatment. Intraoral cameras and digital cameras, naturally, play a powerful role in this process. Scanners also are now being used to take this educational process to the next level. Photographs and scans are extraordinarily powerful visual tools for building each of the four pillars-trust, need, urgency, and value-with your patients.
3. Have Accommodating Financial Options in Place
Lack of an intentional patient experience can lead to a verbal "yes" in the dental chair but the patient walking out the door with no financial arrangements in place or appointments scheduled as the patient checks out. This is the result of having no clear treatment or financial coordinator in place, no treatment planning communication between the clinical and business teams, and/or no set location for financial conversations and finalizations. It could also mean there was a misunderstanding of the patient's intentions when the doctor was discussing treatment options. There are several aspects to improving this situation and facilitating a successful conversation following a treatment consultation:
The right person. Have a person(s) on your team who is directly responsible for financial arrangements and scheduling of appointments in treatment consultations. Ideally, this is someone who is assigned to be the practice's treatment coordinator and can exude confidence in both quoting fees and answering clinical questions.
The right space. Have a private space for financial conversations to take place. Some practices have a consultation room, some do not. Some practices use their consultation room, some do not. If your practice has a suitable space, use it; if you don't have a space, get creative and utilize an area in the office where a nervous patient can be out of the clinical chair when making their treatment and financial decisions. These are personal decisions, and having at least some privacy is important.
The right financial options. Have clear financial options in place and be confident and consistent in presenting them. These can range from having the patient pay in full to offering them financing; a practice should never assume how a patient may want to proceed. Ask questions, present the best possible treatment, give patients options on how they can pay for it, and then get out of the way and give them the chance to say "yes" to the very best option. If a practice has patient financing available, by all means offer it. Even if 10% of treatment that has been presented and not accepted were to move forward with financing, this increase in treatment acceptance would make the effort of putting forth patient financing worthwhile.
It is crucial that the entire team be confident in knowing the practice's treatment presentation process, what the practice's patient experience process is, and what each team member's role is within these processes. Each and every member of the team needs to play their part and carry out their responsibilities to execute an exceptional patient experience. Every member of the team can make or break your patient relationships and your patient pillars; therefore, work intentionally to build confidence and competence in every single position in the practice.
1. American Dental Association. Health Policy Institute. Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States. https://www.ada.org/-/media/project/ada-organization/ada/ada-org/files/resources/research/hpi/us-oral-health-well-being.pdf. Accessed September 20, 2023.
About the Author
Owner and Chief Communications Officer,
The Jameson Group (jmsn.com), a dental management, marketing, and hygiene coaching firm