It has been said that patients only care about what you know once they know that you care. So, how do you build a better dentist-patient relationship to gain your patients’ confidence? A big part of showing how much you care comes from simply becoming a good listener.
Of course, there are other factors that affect a patient’s perception of you and your practice: an up-to-date, welcoming website that accurately reflects the culture of your practice, the quality of their initial phone encounter with your team, their impressions on entering your office. But what really helps them make a connection is knowing that you and your team genuinely listen and understand their concerns and needs and can communicate your recommendations clearly and respectfully.
Has your team been trained in the importance of actively listening to what patients are saying and in effective communication skills? Have you? Remember, it is your job as the dentist to set the tone of the office and lead by example.
4 Tips for Becoming a Good Listener
1. Realize that listening can be more important than speaking.
You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion. Yes, your patient wants to know what you think, but even more, they want to know that they are heard.
2. Convey positive body language.
Sit eye-to-eye in a comfortable chair. I always had a pen and paper ready to make notes. I wanted my patient to see that I was interested in them. While pen and paper may seem 'old school,” it is also true that little things like this can set you apart. People will remember you taking notes.
3. Offer verbal and non-verbal cues that you are listening.
Lean forward, smile, nod your head, and occasionally drop in a "yes" or "uh hum" to affirm what they are saying. Ask brief questions that encourage them to expand on what they are saying: "Can you tell me more?" or "Was that from a past experience?" Listening carefully and noting the inflections of their voice, as well as their body language, will give you good clues as to what is important to them.
4. Minimize noise, interruptions, and other external distractions.
This is a crucial time of relationship building. I always had an assistant in the room with me — for two reasons. If there was a need for someone else on the team to communicate with me, my assistant was able to manage the situation. More importantly, the assistant also took notes, hearing and seeing what I may have missed and confirming important cues and ideas I noted.
A Better Dentist-Patient Relationship Evolves
When my patient had said everything they wanted to say — and only then — it would be my turn. I would ask if I could review what I heard to ensure I got it and allow them to add anything if they wish. I would also add brief questions that allowed for open-ended answers.
A new patient’s first visit was usually an hour. Sometimes the hour was spent just "visiting" with our new friend. Time well invested.
After data gathering, we would have a separate consult visit using PowerPoint to share what was observed. My second slide was always titled "Patient Concerns.” It was a list of topics that I gathered from our notes. Once again, I watched and listened to their responses as I shared that I indeed heard what they had to say. Patients like to see their concerns and desires documented in their own words — it gives them confidence in their level of care.
Non-technical dental training is just as important as learning new techniques if you want your practice to grow and to have more fun! If you have fun, you will love what you do and become a better and more confident dentist and leader. Remember, nothing happens until your patient says “yes.” The better listener and communicator you become, the better dentist-patient relationship you will have and the more yeses you will hear.
Carl E. Steinberg, D.D.S., M.A.G.D., L.L.S.R. (www.DentistryinPhiladelphia.com) is a Spear Visiting Faculty member and a Spear Digest contributor.