7 Key Distinctions That Enhance the Patient Experience and Increase Case Acceptance

by Dr. Paul Homoly

There are seven key distinctions that set the bar for consistently delivering an ideal new patient experience and increasing satisfaction, retention, and referrals. Making a “distinction” involves refining one’s thinking. Dentists are good at making clinical distinctions. For example, recognizing subtle aspects of occlusion that may alter restorative material decisions is a clinical distinction. However, making distinctions in patients’ behaviors that would alter how they are influenced to accept care is often overlooked. Here are the seven key distinctions that enhance patient experiences and improve treatment acceptance.

Excellence vs. Leadership
The most important distinction that drives the success of a practice is the one between excellence vs. leadership. Excellence is a dentist’s clinical ability and the delivery of successful clinical outcomes. However, patients often cannot perceive clinical excellence. Much of what we deliver with excellence is imperceptible to patients. Leadership, on the other hand, is immediately perceptible by patients. Leadership drives the practice culture, the team’s ability to work together, communication skills, and ultimately, the patient’s experience. Leadership signals the presence of excellence to patients. Leadership must be the constant companion of excellence and must start with the dentist and be embraced by the entire team. The greater the clinical complexity of care dentists seek to offer, the greater the demand for their leadership skills.

Educating vs. Understanding
Is patient education the “secret sauce” to treatment acceptance, or is there something else going on? Yes, there is, and you’ve proved it. How many times have you educated patients well and had them not accept care? Too many, I’d bet. Think of the new patient experience and treatment acceptance as a coin. One side of the coin is patient education. The other side is understanding patients. That’s the side we often miss.

Educating patients is about:

  • Revealing their dental conditions and their etiology
  • Treatment recommendations and options
  • Benefits, risks, and consequences of no treatment
  • Prevention

Education is mainly about consent issues and prevention.

Understanding patients is about:

  • Discovering the lifestyle hindering aspects of their conditions
  • Learning the lifestyle benefits patients seek
  • Accommodating patients’ life circumstances that affect their readiness
  • Building a personal connection with patients

Understanding patients is about influence and personal connection.

To patients, dental care is personal; they want it to be personal to you too.

To excel at the new patient and treatment presentation process, use both sides of the coin; education and understanding.

Inputs vs. Outcomes
Inputs are what we do; crowns, implants, endodontics. Outcomes are what patients experience as a result of our work; comfort, confidence, peace of mind. Traditional teaching about case presentation has taught us to talk to patients in terms of inputs. However, patients respond more to outcomes. That is why when we present complex care to a patient, we must focus on the outcomes of dental care. Think of it like this. Speak in term of outcomes when presenting care. Speak in terms of inputs during informed consent/prevention conversations.

Providers vs. Advocate
Dentists have two roles; provider and advocate. The provider is the clinician who delivers the dentistry. The advocate guides patients towards good health care decisions. Advocates present dentistry; providers do it. The big mistake many dentists make is they present care from their provider role. They do this by overexplaining the technical aspects of treatment procedures. Overexplaining and overeducating have the unintended side effects of patients feeling sales pressure.

The more patients sense your advocacy and having their best interests at heart, the more it will benefit your provider role. Trust is the outcome of provider and advocate roles blended together well.

Condition vs. Disability
A condition is a clinical finding that is outside of normal limits. A disability is what the patient is experiencing in his or her life due to a dental condition. Conditions are clinical; disabilities are psychological and emotional. Patients are more influenced when talking about relieving their disability and less on the technical steps of treating conditions. For patients with moderate to complex care needs, it’s important to discover their disabilities. Do this by being curious about how their condition influences their life. For example, Michelle doesn’t like the discoloration of the composites in her front teeth. This is her condition. To discover her disability, get curious about the lifestyle hindrance of her front teeth by asking, “Michelle, tell me about a time when the appearance of your front teeth bothered you?” Or ask, “Is this a problem for you more at work or at home?” Her response may be, “I deal with customers all day, and because I try not to smile, I think it affects my sales.” Michelle’s condition is the anterior composites. Her disability is it limits her sales. If the best treatment for Michelle’s condition is veneers, then present them as a way to improve her sales, and not by describing the technical steps of treating her conditions; tooth preparation, impressions, etc.

Simple vs. Complex Care
Simple care patients are those whose total care needs require fewer than three restorations with fees less than $3500. Complex care patients require much more. The importance of the distinction between simple vs. complex care patients is they respond differently during the new patient and treatment presentation process.

Simple care patients:

  • Have minor conditions with minor disabilities
  • Often are unaware of their conditions
  • Usually can fit minor care into their lives

Complex care patients:

  • Have lifestyle limiting conditions and significant disabilities
  • Are aware of their chronic conditions
  • Usually cannot fit complex care into their lives and often need time to accommodate complex care

Simple care patients usually respond well to patient education. Because they are often unaware of their conditions, educating them creates concern and motive to treat conditions. Complex care patients respond well to being understood. This means discovering their disability and related lifestyle benefits. It also means learning about how their life circumstances influence their readiness for care. Recognizing and accommodating the differences between simple vs. complex patients will enable you to adjust the focus of your new patient experience. Focus on patient education with simple care patients. Focus on understanding complex care patients.

Fees vs. Budgets
Fees are the dollar cost of dental care. The budget is the suitability of care relative to the patient’s financial resources. It’s a good practice when dealing with complex care patients to estimate the fee early in their new patient experience. This way, they can begin thinking about how complex care can fit into their budget. If care doesn’t fit within their budget, you can accommodate it by sequencing care to stay within their budget. It’s far better to know budget restrictions before you quote the fee. Plus, knowing and accommodating budgets diminishes the adverse effects of sticker shock.

Understanding and accommodating these seven key distinctions will enhance patient experiences and improve your treatment acceptance. As a result you’ll experience greater career fulfillment and the prosperity you’ve earned and deserve.

About the Author

Dr. Paul Homoly, is a leading voice on the topics of case acceptance for complete dentistry, practice development and leadership communications. Dr. Homoly practised implant and restorative dentistry for over 20 years before focusing on improving treatment acceptance for complete dentistry and leadership development. Dr. Homoly is proud to be partnered with Transitions Group. His revolutionary Case Acceptance Program “Making it Easy for Patients to Say Yes” is available to Canadian dentists exclusively at https://tgnapracticemanagement.com/mie-online/

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