CO-DIAGNOSING, OR GAINING THE PATIENT’S TRUST
The initial patient contact is made prior to the patient entering the dental office. Some patients have already made up their minds even before meeting the dentist. There are three major contacts with the patient prior to meeting the dentist. I call this the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. The first hit or strike can occur when the patient sees your advertisement or calls your office by way of a referral. As mentioned in Chapter 21, the patient creates a mental image of you and your office based on your advertisement or the way he or she is greeted on the phone. By answering “dental office,” the patient is left to think whether he or she has called the right place. Proper professional etiquette must be used when answering the phone, such as, “Good morning, Dr. Smith’s office, Susan speaking. How may I help you?”
The second hit or strike can occur when the patient enters the office and is greeted in person. The atmosphere of the reception area and how the patient is greeted by the staff weighs heavily on the patient’s image of you and your office. It is not very welcoming to the patient to be told, “Sign in and we’ll call you when it’s time.” The patient should be immediately acknowledged by name when he or she first comes into the office. The patient should feel truly welcome there. The reception area must be clean and up-to-date. Offering a beverage or just water is a nice welcoming gesture.
The third hit or strike can occur when the assistant or hygienist greets and escorts the patient to the operatory. As a general rule, staff should always address patients by the proper title and last name if the patient appears to be older than the staff member or over 21 years old. It is a sad situation when a 19-year-old assistant goes to the reception area and calls out “Mary” only to find out that Mary is 86 years old. If the office is rather large and the staff does not have personal knowledge of the patients, a photo may be taken on the initial visit and attached to the chart. This will prevent patient mix-up.
Some have referred to the presentation of a treatment plan to a patient as “selling dentistry” or “closing the sale.” You cannot sell dentistry. What you are selling is yourself. You want the patient to “buy” into a trusting relationship. Hence, you are selling trust. However, trust cannot be sold; it must be developed, nurtured, massaged, earned. Therefore, every contact you or your office has directly or indirectly with a current or prospective patient must honor that ever-developing trust.
After the initial contact, an appointment must be made. Be sure to leave enough time to educate the patient, to allow any questions, and to gain the patient’s trust. Focus on the patient and take some interest in his or her hobbies, job, and family. People love to talk about themselves. Try to “connect” with the patient by finding some common interest. Many times it may be a staff member who connects with the patient through some common interest or similar family situation. Being on time and being organized also helps to build that trust. If your patient chart is haphazard, disorganized, or incomplete, the patient may feel the same about their quality of care. When discussing needed treatment, always keep in mind that patients typically will be using discretionary income, unless it is a more urgent health situation such as in the case of pain or swelling. Being rushed or fumbling through a chart does not help develop the patient’s interest to turn dental needs into dental wants.
Always keep the focus on how the treatment will benefit the patient and the value the treatment has to the patient. Many dentists spend too much time discussing how something will be done, or how good the dentist is, rather than the benefit to the patient. To understand the patient’s wants, ask open-ended questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, “How may I help you?” “What are your concerns about your teeth?” “What do you like or not like about your teeth?” “Are there any questions concerning your teeth you would like to ask?” Then give the patient time to formulate and answer or ask a question. In today’s production- and goal-oriented practice, the dentist is often too hurried and does not focus on the patient as a person. Take the time to involve and educate the patient, raising his or her “dental IQ” up a notch. Just raising the patient’s “dental IQ” or awareness slightly by involving the patient allows him or her a better understanding and appreciation for dentistry and cre/>