Turning “Maybe” Patients into “Yes” Patients
To remove barriers to treatment acceptance, you have to ask the right questions
Regarding treatment acceptance, I have found that there are generally three types of patients. The first type is the "yes" patient. They are loyal, they trust you, and they value their oral health. These patients understand the potential consequences of delaying or declining care. They understand that an investment needs to be made and are willing to pay it. The second type includes patients who are predisposed to say "no" to treatment because they place little priority on their dental health or have an "insurance mindset." And finally, the third type is the "maybe" patient. These patients want to have good oral health and an attractive smile, but don't immediately commit to care because of a variety of reasons, including those surrounding value, cost, time, and fear.
When dentistry is unplanned and unbudgeted, cost can become a barrier for all types of patients. Therefore, if there is a gap between the cost of care and what their benefits will cover, or if they don't have insurance to get the dentistry they need, you may need to provide a financial solution like promotional financing.
Helping the "maybes" get the dentistry that they need can present a significant opportunity for dentists. The key is to understand their core values, remove any barriers to care, and then offer solutions.
Find Out What Matters Most
Before you can identify the "maybes," you will need to ask questions to give you some insight into your patients' mindsets. Asking patients these questions can be helpful in many ways, but is crucial in identifying the "maybes." From the very first interaction, the goal of the entire dental team should be to gain an understanding of what matters most to each patient by asking the right questions and truly listening to the answers. First, ask what is most important to them when it comes to getting the dentistry that they need to be healthy. Patient responses will often focus on money/affordability, time/convenience, quality/esthetics, comfort/fear, or relationship/trust. Next, ask what you can do, specifically, to give patients what is most important to them. This provides patients with the opportunity to expand on what they want and need related to their core values.
Patients may respond that their lives afford them with very little time, indicating that convenience is an important value to them. Offering same-day treatment options may be a way to meet the needs of these patients. Others may express that fear of pain is their number one concern, which could be addressed through the provision of sedation dentistry. Some patients may respond that they don't want to be surprised by the cost of treatment. These words could indicate that trust and affordability are key core values. Ask these patients what you or your team can do to help them feel more informed about their potential investment to ensure that the dentistry they receive is affordable to them.
You can provide reassurance by explaining-even before the examination-that you will find a solution that will work for his or her financial situation. Using this approach can help your "maybes" become more receptive to accepting treatment recommendations.
Remove Barriers to Understanding
To be open to accepting treatment recommendations, patients need to have a clear understanding of what's going on in their mouths. Patients should see and hear the doctor's clinical findings and be told what this information means to them and their oral health (ie, benefits and consequences of delaying treatment) in language that they understand. If they don't fully understand the need for the care, they can't value the dentistry, especially if there is no discomfort. In the absence of pain, patients often feel that there is no serious problem to be solved. Presenting visual aids such as photographs, radiographs, and intraoral scans can enable patients to literally "see" the issues with their teeth and help motivate them to accept treatment.
To help turn the "maybes" into scheduled appointments, patients also need solutions to overcome any barriers that stand in the way of their ability to get the care that they need. This should be framed around the core values that they previously shared. Asking additional questions can help. After confirming the patient's understanding of the benefits and consequences of accepting or declining treatment, identify any additional unspoken barriers based on the core values shared and offer solutions.
After removing any barriers to treatment acceptance, you can provide clinical solutions to your "maybe" patients. This may mean offering patients who are time poor the option of same-day dentistry or weekend appointments. And for those who are fearful of the dentist, sedation options could turn the "maybe" into a "yes." For the budget-conscious and those with more serious financial issues, another solution may be financing through an appropriate lender.
As the end of the year approaches, your practice's schedule is filling up with patients, many of whom are seeking to use their unused insurance benefits or the money they've put into flexible medical spending accounts. Another way to help turn "maybe" patients into "yes" patients is to remind them that they have these unused benefits available. Tell them that you can help them maximize their end-of-year benefits and provide other options to help them cover the remaining out-of-pocket expense without stressing their budgets.
Of course, no practice can achieve 100% case acceptance. However, asking patients the right questions and listening to their answers can help you to understand their core values, identify the barriers to their care, and help more "maybe" patients actually schedule treatment to address their oral health needs.
About the Author
Bernie Stoltz is the CEO of Fortune Management, the world's largest executive coaching organization for doctors.