The past two years have certainly been tough times, and many of us have understandably been worried about what all of this means for the future of our businesses. The added weakness of systems that were already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic has become even more magnified and that is certainly not helping us regain our patient numbers.
Since the start of the pandemic, we as dental professionals have gone to great lengths to make our patients feel safe and protected so that they can properly maintain their oral health by receiving any necessary treatment. However, knowing how to perform excellent dental treatment and having the ability to provide treatment to our patients are two different things. Getting patients to plan the treatment we recommend can be challenging, but it’s essential to the success of our practices. The acceptance rate must be greater than 80% for existing patients and between 50% and 75% for new patients.1
It is imperative that we take the time to explain to each patient why they need a particular treatment, and we must do our best to answer all their questions. Despite having received all the necessary information regarding the proposed treatment, many patients leave the practice without making an appointment for treatment, some never hearing from them again. While this can be quite a frustrating situation, it can also be an opportunity to make improvements to our systems to increase case acceptance rates.
If we want patients to accept treatment, we have to understand what they really want. When we have the same priorities as our patients, our practices’ case retention and acceptance rates will increase. Patients will feel more in control of the process and will appreciate that we have truly understood their needs and values, thus fostering loyalty and trust.2 They won’t feel pressured into agreeing to treatment they don’t really want. Instead, they will gladly accept treatment that will help them achieve their oral health goals.
Collaboration with patients
Effective listening is the key to discovering what motivates patients, what they think about their smile and what they would like to improve.3 It’s not about selling dentistry; it’s about getting to know our patients and even partnering with them to create a win-win situation. Asking questions, especially open-ended questions, can help encourage patients to communicate their oral health-related desires; for example:
- On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being poor and 10 being excellent), what level of oral health would you like to achieve?
- Have you ever had problems chewing or had pain in your mouth or teeth?
- How important is your smile to you and your confidence when interacting with people, both personally and professionally?
- If you had a magic wand, what, if anything, would you change about your smile?
- Diet affects oral health. Could you please tell me about your diet?
We dentists can be excellent clinicians and superiors when it comes to treatment planning, but presenting treatment plans to the patient is something best delegated to a well-trained staff member. For example, having a treatment coordinator go over every detail with the patient in a comfortable and calm environment, giving them the opportunity to ask questions without feeling rushed, can be very effective. Conversations supported by digital tools to visually demonstrate treatment options also help patients understand the benefits of suggested treatment and help them feel more connected to the practice, which of course makes them more comfortable planning. a treatment. If we want to improve case acceptance in our practice, we should seek the patient’s final decision after presentation of the proposed treatment and explore barriers to acceptance with the patient.
Unfortunately, dental fears are common and often prevent patients from getting the treatment they need. When patients look at before and after photographs of similar cases we have completed, it can help ease their fear and build their confidence, making them much more likely to accept treatment. It is imperative that the patient understands exactly what the treatment entails and how we plan to keep them comfortable. This includes asking about their concerns, covering the possible consequences of not receiving treatment, and focusing on the benefits of the proposed treatment.
The research found that almost 68% of those who avoided or delayed dental visits gave the expense as the primary reason.4 Although multiple reasons were given, the cost of a visit to the dentist was mentioned more than twice as often as anything else.4 Most patients don’t set aside money specifically for dental care and have no idea how they will pay for the treatment.5 In my experience, if they are not in pain, patients often convince themselves that they do not need treatment, which inevitably leads to more complex problems and additional costs later on.
We should take the time to educate patients in detail before discussing costs, ensuring they understand the value of the care we provide. If it’s because they don’t really see the value of treatment, we should educate them about their condition and the possible consequences of not receiving treatment. Once patients understand why they need treatment, price becomes less of a barrier. In our clinical policies, we should offer different financing options to our patients, showing them that we are also ready to support them.
Lack of time
Lack of time is a common reason for delayed treatment. Like most people, our patients are often very busy and may forget to call to schedule treatment once they leave the practice, despite sometimes knowing the importance of their dental health and the importance or the urgency of the proposed treatment. To overcome this, we can train our treatment coordinator to follow up with the patient two days or one week after the initial case presentation. This way the conversation is still fresh in the patient’s mind. We can use these calls as an opportunity to further educate patients and address any lingering concerns. Patients will appreciate the extra effort and will better understand the recommended treatment and why it is needed.
Effective recall and retention program
Retaining a current patient is much easier and more cost-effective than attracting a new patient, so investing time and effort into an effective patient recall and retention strategy is essential. In an effective recall and retention program, patients should visit twice a year.
The recall and retention strategy should involve educating patients about the practice’s services and the value of the ongoing care provided by the team. This includes the amazing advancements in dental materials and digital technologies as well as the treatment options available. It is important to highlight the improved patient experience and faster results that can be achieved with these tools.
In summary, an efficient and structured case presentation policy ensures that patients say yes to our treatment plans. It also addresses one of the core values of dentistry, which is the commitment to oral health as a component of the overall health of our patients. When we gain and retain patients who enjoy our practice, we will have the opportunity to practice with less stress and more joy in our clinics.
- Philhower J. Measuring case acceptance. Eco tooth. 2015 Sep;105(9):62.
- Dunning DG, Lange BM, editors. Dental practice transition: a practical guide to management. 2n/a ed. Ames: Wiley; 2016. 528 p.
- Jameson C. Great communication = great production. 2n/a ed. Tulsa: Penn Well; 2002. 319 p.
- Armfield J. The avoidance and postponement of dental visits in Australia. Aust Dent J. 2012 Jun;57(2):243–7. doi: 10.1111/j.1834-7819.2012.01697.x.
- Jameson C. Collect what you produce. 2n/a ed. Tulsa: Penn Well; 2005. 283 p.