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Emotional Momentum: Fresh Thinking About Treatment Acceptance

October 29, 2021
by Dr. Paul Homoly


You’re no longer special just because you offer implants, cosmetics and orthodontics. Moderate-to-complex care dentistry is rapidly becoming less of a differentiator among dentists.

The differentiator among dentists in this decade and following is when they make patients feel well-cared for. This differentiator exerts its greatest influence during the new patient experience and treatment presentation process.

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Dentists think about the new patient experience and the treatment presentation process in a linear way. They think, “First, we’ll take X-rays and scans. Then patients will see the hygienist. She’ll examine them and clean their teeth. Then, I’ll do an exam, and my treatment coordinator will present treatment.” Here’s the word that describes this new patient experience: ordinary. Ordinary is
not a differentiator. Ordinary doesn’t get the job done for patients to feel they’ll be well-cared for.

What if, in addition to achieving clinical outcomes, dentists and team members focused on patients’ emotional outcomes for each step in the new patient and treatment presentation process?

Let’s take a fresh look at the new patient experience and discover how to create an emotional momentum that leads to treatment acceptance.

Emotional momentum
Emotional momentum is creating positive patient experiences that escalate over the new patient appointment that influences treatment acceptance. (See diagram of Emotional Momentum.)

The labels on the diagonal line represent new patients’ emotional outcomes related to each clinical step. The intention of emotional momentum is to peak patients’ positive emotional experiences to coincide with when it matters most; the treatment presentation and financial arrangements.

Let’s discuss each emotional outcome that constitutes emotional momentum.

Likeability
The first step in creating emotional momentum is likeability. Patients prefer to experience a likable environment in the dental office. Now, this may seem like common sense, but think about this: what’s likable about a typical new patient experience? Is a full-mouth series of X-rays likable? How about study models or intraoral scans? How likable are they? Or how about periodontal probing? Is that likable? Starting your new patient experience with diagnostics can create an unlikeable and ordinary dental experience. Dentists do it because it’s efficient. However, to initiate emotional momentum, rule #1 is to be surprisingly likable.

The process with the highest potential for spawning a surprisingly likable event during the new patient appointment is a one-on-one conversation with the dentist. Have this conversation before any diagnostic procedures.

The gold standard for initiating emotional momentum is the unexpected, delightful relationships dentists can start with patients. Take the time for you and your patient to get to know and like each other. When dentists tell me, “I don’t have time to start my new patient process with talking to patients. I have my team do this,” I know they’re missing the best opportunity to initiate emotional momentum and become surprisingly likeable.

Empathy
The second step in building positive emotional momentum is empathy. This starts during your one-on-one conversation. Empathy is about understanding patients and discovering the lifestyle benefits they seek. Here’s a bit of my experience consulting with hundreds of dentists for decades; most dentists don’t know why patients want their teeth fixed. Dentists know what conditions patients aren’t happy about, but often they don’t know the lifestyle benefits patients seek. Discover patients’ lifestyle benefits by being curious about how their current dental health bothers them. The lifestyle benefit is always the emotional opposite of what bothers them.

Advocacy
Advocacy is the third step in building emotional momentum. Advocacy begins during the new patient conversation and continues through the treatment presentation. Advocacy is the emotional outcome for patients when they realize your concern about how dentistry needs to fit into their lives and their dental care suitability. This is especially critical for the moderate to complex care patient. From surveys of thousands of general dentists for over 20 years, most patients whose moderate to complex dental care is $10,000 or greater, 90% of them aren’t ready to accept complete care. It would make sense then to anticipate their lack of readiness early in your relationship. For many patients, it’s not the right time in their life for moderate to complex care. So, what do you do with the 90% who aren’t ready? This is what your advocate role serves. Advocates communicate to patients that treatment acceptance is not a condition of a continuing good relationship and that treatment can proceed when they’re ready. Readiness is the patient’s decision, not ours.

Hope
Many moderate to complex care patients have lost hope that dental health is possible for them. Restoring hope is the fourth step in building emotional momentum. Early in my career, I practised as an associate in Spruce Pine, a small community in western North Carolina in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Most of my patients lived in areas with no fluoridated drinking water. Consequently, many of my new patients had severe dental conditions. After my exams I’d reveal to patients all their conditions and my treatment recommendations which included most of their teeth. What surprised me was their indifference to it all. I’d hear, “I guess I’ve got soft teeth. What’s the use in fixing them when I’m gonna end up losing them anyway?”

After a short while, I began to realize patient education had unintended consequences. It discouraged patients. Many were already in a negative mindset about their “soft teeth,” and my new patient experience confirmed it for them. During my post-exam discussion, this realization shifted my emphasis from negative framing (here’s everything wrong with your dental health) to positive framing (here’s everything I see that’s good about your dental health). For every condition outside of normal limits, I described the ones within it. Immediately I began to see a change in patients’ responses, and I’d hear things like, “Doc, no one ever told me about the good things; just the bad things.” My team and I got good at positive framing and gave patients hope. Positive framing does not mean sugar-coating patients’ conditions. It’s about presenting a balanced appraisal of their dental health, citing the healthy and unhealthy conditions. Inspiring hope as the emotional outcome during patients’ post-examination discussion goes a long way in helping patients feel good about their decision to choose you as their dentist.

Inspiration
Inspiration is the fifth step in building emotional momentum. This occurs during the post-examination discussion after you’ve provided positive framing and discussed your examination findings. Inspiration is provided in two forms:

  • photographs of patient outcomes with similar  conditions
  • storytelling

It’s inspiring for patients to see outcomes similar to what they can expect. Show “before and after” full-face smiling photographs. I like using an iPad to show photographs. This way, patients can hold the iPad and feel closer to the outcome. Just hand the iPad to your patient, briefly tell them what they’re looking at, and then remain silent. Let them enjoy the moment. Then, it’s time for storytelling. Tell your new patient the story of the patient in the photograph. Patients’ stories all have a similar structure. Start with the patient’s first name in the photo and explain you’ve been given permission to use it. Then, tell about how the patient’s conditions affect their life – the disability. After that, tell about how the dentistry improved the patient’s lifestyle – the benefit. Combining excellent photography with a well-told story provides the emotional outcome of inspiration and escalates the new patient experience of emotional momentum.

Confidence
Confidence is the sixth emotional outcome when building emotional momentum. Patients’ confidence is something we’ve earned incrementally throughout the new patient experience. Confidence leads to the expectation of achieving the lifestyle benefits patients seek. Confidence leads to trust in the character of their providers. Emotional momentum intends to peak patient confidence to coincide with the treatment presentation and financial arrangements. During the treatment presentation, patients make two decisions. First, they decide whether your clinical recommendations will satisfy their lifestyle benefit. Second, they decide whether you and your team will be their providers. By leading patients into confidence, we make both decisions easier. Yet, even under the circumstances of patients having complete confidence in the clinical outcome and provider character, they may not be ready for care due to their personal issues. However, they are entirely confident that when they become ready, you will be their dentist. Patients’ confidence is what we’ve earned by creating the preceding five patient emotional outcomes during the new patient process.

Loyalty
Patient loyalty is the seventh and last emotional outcome along the path of emotional momentum. Loyalty results from the preceding six emotional outcomes. Patient loyalty binds patients intellectually and emotionally to your practice. Everything good that comes to us from dentistry is a result of patient loyalty:

  • Patients returning for complete care who were previously not ready
  • Patient retention
  • Referrals
  • Positive online reviews
  • Career fulfillment

Emotional momentum is the ultimate differentiator among dentists and provides fresh thinking about treatment acceptance.


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. He has recently published the Kindle book Just Because You’re Leading…Doesn’t Mean They Follow.


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