By Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA (University of Chicago) & MBA (K.U.L. Belgium)
New patients present special challenges—and opportunities
Successful case acceptance—especially among new patients—begins long before case presentation.
When a new patient enters your office, his antenna is finely tuned for all messages—spoken and unspoken—that will help him form an impression of your practice. When that impression is positive, it increases your chances of treatment acceptance.
Let Your Humanity Show
This means letting the person know your interest in her extends beyond the dental appointment. After you welcome the patient, ask how she learned about your practice and other questions to identify ‘common ground’ that is, something about which you share an interest, common background, friends in common, etc. You will find there is almost no one with whom you do not share something in common.
When you do this, you’re building a bridge between your practice and what’s important to your patient—namely, his desire for a caring, thoughtful health care provider. You’re also providing an opening for the patient to talk a little about himself, his work and more. It may seem like a digression, but it is a great way to connect with your patients, that is, to show them you understand, like, and respect them.
People may not remember what you said.
They’ll always remember how you made them feel.
Turning to dentistry, you might begin by discussing your goal to provide the best options for the patient, and letting him know his wishes will be respected. This has the positive effect of dissipating any stress the patient may feel about “being forced to make a decision.”
Anyone experiencing that kind of pressure is typically too distracted to concentrate on what you are saying. Assure your patient that you will provide him with everything he needs to make the best choice, and that a timely decision is in his best interest.
By this point, you’ve built positive communications with the patient and, with hope, begun to earn his trust. Your next task is to have the patient share with you what, in terms of dentistry (and over all health if yours is an ‘oral systemic’ practice), is important to him.
You can start by asking if he has any questions or concerns about his oral health, if he’s happy with his smile and if there’s anything he might want to change about the appearance of his teeth. Then just listen.
It’s important to remember that often silence is your friend. When someone is silent, it usually means they are considering your point and want the ‘space’ to arrive at their own conclusion. So, when in doubt, remember: less (talk) is more.
In all likelihood, your patient will tell you her story. Body language, eye contact and active listening will demonstrate to the patient you understand and care about what she is saying.
And your reply is equally important. Depending on the patient’s response you might say, “If I hear you correctly, you are embarrassed by your smile, and would like to know how we can help with that, is that right?” Concluding this question with “is that right?” makes it a close-ended question (aka closed probe). A closed probe can typically be answered only by a one word answer, in this case, yes or no.
When you have the patient conclude the exchange with an unambiguous reply, she has presented you with an opportunity to satisfy a need (with a treatment plan, being certain to always translate the attribute e.g. whiter teeth, to a benefit e.g. more confidence), or to continue probing for more opportunities. For example, you might ask, “Is there anything else we might be able to help you with?” If the answer is yes, simply ask, “What is that?”
After your exam, the next step in getting to case acceptance is to show your patient how your proposed treatment will help her achieve her goals.
Continuing with the above example, let’s assume your (verbal) probing determines that your patient has been interviewing, and her self-consciousness about the appearance of her teeth has caused her to feel anxious and lack confidence during the interview.
You might then say, “I can appreciate exactly what you’re saying” or, depending on the ‘type’ of person [see DISC, neuro-linguistic programming, and other information processing classification technologies for more on this subject] “I know how you’re feeling. While people should judge us on our abilities, it’s often our appearance that tips the balance. Well, I’ve got good news. We can provide you with a choice of solutions to get you to where you’ll look forward to sharing your smile with everyone; friend and stranger, and we’ll be able to do it in time for your next interview.”
If your patient responds with something like “That would be great doctor!” you’ve just confirmed a need, which is the impetus that drives someone to accept treatment.
The next step is to summarize your treatment recommendations, being sure to relate each procedure to how it will address the stated need of your patient. Upon successful completion of this step, the patient is ready to be handed off to your scheduling coordinator to handle the “paperwork.”
Exercise: Acid test for practice growth
Test your and your team’s attitude toward two seemingly different types of patient.
Scenario One: Bill, your good patient Fred’s best friend, is getting married, and wants a complete smile makeover in time for his big day.
Scenario Two: Mary, who just received one of your New Patient Invitation Mailings, wants to know how much a crown costs.
Who would you rather talk to?
If you’re like most people, you’d rather talk to Bill.
But if you really want to grow your practice, you and your staff will want to speak with Mary.
Because Mary represents the future of your practice.
Bill is already “sold.” Mary is simply at a different point on the ‘communication curve’. If you and your Team have mastered The Art of First Impressions, that is, professional call handling skills, you’ll actually look forward to speaking with Mary. Those skills include establishing rapport, conveying empathy, exuding enthusiasm, and getting the caller to agree (in most cases, to schedule an appointment). Questions concerning fees, insurance, etc. can all be successfully addressed, once you have the right skill set, including not only what to say, but also how and when to say it. For example, always ‘sell’ the practice before qualifying the caller, that is, share all the wonderful benefits your patients experience before moving on to questions about insurance, scheduling, etc.
When you and your Team successfully make the shift to this mindset, you will be amazed at the results. People you were sure would never become ‘good’ patients will, to your great delight, prove you wrong!