For most practices new patients oftentimes want an exam for one of the following reasons:
- They have a specific problem such as a toothache or sensitive area.
- They are due for their “cleaning” (i.e., a patient who has had little to no dental treatment in the past, or anytime they see a dentist).
- They are aware they have some dental issues, such as missing several teeth, decay on all their front teeth, etc., and they are looking for a solution.
But regardless of why they come to your office, many new patients are not fully aware of all their dental issues. This leads us to conduct a comprehensive new patient exam only to discover a multitude of dental problems, of which the patient is oblivious.
With photographs, 3D scans, CBCT, and models, we compile significant information, data, and evidence. Next, we sit the patient upright in the chair or meet them eye-to-eye at a conference room table, to establish a rapport and share all the findings and the supporting evidence relating to their dental issues.
With that, our new patient should have no resistance to the truth and the evidence to support the findings. Ideally, we'd like them to submit to our recommendations and proceed with treatment. But we all know it's not always that simple.
Preventing one-and-done patients by ‘asking,’ not ‘telling’
You probably know that this strategy for case acceptance can lead new patients to become overwhelmed, confused, scared, worried, and ashamed. It can also lead them to never return.
A patient's awareness, ownership, and engagement of their own oral health are key factors in their ability to accept and hear the review of findings. If the patient only hears part of what you are telling them and they leave the office never to come back, have you really served them well?
When it comes to having discussions with new patients about their oral conditions and treatment needs, we are there to inform them of all their issues and problems. In fact, if we miss or skip informing them about their issues we fail as dental professionals.
Our wholehearted duty is to make proper diagnoses and recommendations about treatment needs. Unfortunately, when it comes to sharing dental and oral health issues with new patients we go into “telling mode” and simply churn out findings and recommendations with a sprinkling of jargon.
For example, Mr. Jones comes in for a new patient exam. After taking X-rays, completing a comprehensive exam, and exercising excellent clinical skills and knowledge, you find several issues with his teeth.
You raise the chair and tell him, “Mr. Jones, our findings show you have five cavities, two cracked teeth, and probing depths around your gums over 4 mm. I recommend you get five fillings, two crowns, and some scaling and root planing for your gums.”
Like many new patients, Mr. Jones is completely, or mostly unaware, of his current situation, so he tries to sort through it by saying things like:
- “Does my insurance cover this?”
- “But doctor, I don't have any pain or sensitivity.”
- “Can we start with the worse one?”
- “Can I think about it?”
To avoid a scenario like Mr. Jones, get out of “telling mode” and get into “asking mode.” At the point of sharing findings with the patient, start the conversation by asking them questions about their thoughts of their current dental “state of health.”
Another way to start engaging conversations with a new patient is to show them a short video of their specific condition(s). The Spear Online Patient Education platform is specifically made to kick off these kinds of discussions, increase case acceptance, and keep new patients coming back.
Spear Online members have access to more than 200 jargon-free condition, procedure, post-op, home care, and other animated videos, to help new patients visually comprehend their condition and spark productive conversation.
Patient education is crucial to case acceptance
The goal is not to tell new patients about their oral health. The goal is to have new patients ask us about their oral health and what needs to be done.
There is a huge difference in patients being TOLD about their oral health versus having a well-informed patient ASK about their oral health. Why? People listen better when they are asked a question because they are engaged and curious to find answers. To get patients to truly listen and hear what you have to say about their current oral health ask them questions or show them a Patient Education video.
Next time you find yourself telling a new patient about their oral conditions and treatment needs, stop yourself and start asking them questions instead. To create productive conversations, increase case acceptance, and keep new patients coming back, ask them questions about their oral conditions, show them Patient Education videos and then let them know how you and your dentistry can lead them to better health and well-being.
If you want to learn more about improving new patient communication, I highly recommend you watch these:
- The New Patient Experience
- Case Acceptance in the Modern Dental Practice
- How to Jump-Start Patient Education Videos
- The Examination Checklist: Start the Conversation
- Creating a New Patient Experience With Intention
Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., is an accredited member of the AACD, member of Spear Visiting Faculty and a contributor to Spear Digest.