dental patient questionsIn my last article, I wrote about how, to be a great dentist, you need to be great at getting a read on a patients’ mindsets about dentistry so you can take an approach to treatment presentation that doesn’t leave them feeling blindsided and overwhelmed.

A big part of mastering this approach is mastering how to answer the most common questions a patient will have when presented with a diagnosis they didn’t expect:

  1. Do I really need it?
    The obvious short answer to this is, “Yes, or I wouldn’t have recommended it.” At least that’s the understanding the patient should have, however you phrase it. What the patient is looking for here is to get your professional permission to not proceed. The best, most honest way to respond to that, I think, is to say something like, “You can put it off – nobody dies from not moving ahead with a dental procedure. But the simple fact is dental conditions don’t get better on their own; it can only get worse, and more expensive to treat if you leave it.” There are many other ways to make the point; the important thing is that your clinical competence and confidence comes through.
  2. How much will it cost?
    The main thing here is not so much what your answer is, but rather how you answer. Too often, clinicians get uncomfortable when the talk turns to cost, and they come across as apologetic or even evasive. If you want to refer the patient to a treatment coordinator for a complete breakdown on fees, fine. But don’t be afraid to look the patient in the eye and directly and confidently say, “Mary will give you all the details on fees and financing options, and I will be available to answer any further questions have regarding the costs.” Remember, patients are used to financing things of real value to them over time. A big part of creating value for the patient to do that with dentistry is demonstrating your own confidence in your value.
  3. Will my insurance cover it?
    This is a difficult topic for many dentists, but rather than dreading this question, you should be welcoming it, because it gives you the opportunity to have a very important conversation about how to look at insurance as a supplement to help with payment, not a basis for treatment planning. (Even the term “coverage” is problematic, as I have written about before.)

This is one of the most crucial discussions you will have with a patient because it not only addresses the issue of how they will pay for the treatment you have presented today, it helps establish the right expectations going forward about the limits of insurance and the value of great dentistry. That’s why I have devoted a two-part online course to providing thorough guidance on how to have this crucial conversation.

  1. Can I think about it?
    It’s a valid question, particularly if the patient was not expecting a diagnosis and treatment plan as involved as the one you just presented. It is understandable that they would want to time to reflect and process what you have said before committing to a decision. The problem is that once they get out of the chair and back to their lives, they are often not thinking about it anymore.

So try this for an answer:  “Absolutely - take some time to think about it. Let’s make an appointment for next week to get back together briefly and talk about it again. In the meantime, what information can I give you to help you in your decision-making?” This puts a definite timeline to the process and keeps the decision at the forefront of their minds after they go. (I’ll also point out that Spear’s Patient Education animations are often great tools to use in these situations, especially when a patient wants to consult with a spouse. You can give the patient a link to the explanatory tutorial, which they can then view together at home with their husband or wife.)

Again, these are not definitive responses or scripts to be memorized. I don’t believe in teaching verbal skills in that way (I can’t even pronounce “verbal”). The idea is to find the words that feel right to you that communicate these thoughts. It will be time well spent, because, after all, these are the questions that you can be guaranteed will come up again and again throughout the course of your career. Doesn’t it make sense to master how to answer them honestly and effectively, every time?

(Click this link to read more dental practice management articles by Imtiaz Manji.)