Image is everything, and everyone wants to look and feel their best. People are accomplishing this through personal trainers, expensive diets, and even seeking out plastic surgery. However, many people avoid both necessary and elective treatment when it comes to dentistry because of fear, anxiety, previous bad experiences, costs, and impatience with the process. They simply do not trust the clinician.
Dental professionals need to properly educate patients and the community about the importance of a healthy mouth and its effects on the body. We have to help patients understand what treatment they need, why they need it, and make patients feel comfortable during the treatment process to help them look and feel their best.
Hygienist to Patient Relationship
The hygienist to patient relationship is very important to the success of the patient’s health and dental practice success. Hygienists see patients more frequently and for longer appointment times than the dentist. Whether they are seen for a routine six-month recall visit or are on a more frequent three-month periodontal maintenance program, the patient develops a rapport with the hygienist.
During these appointment times, the hygienist gets to know and understand the patient better, resulting in a more profound patient-clinician relationship. Patients feel more comfortable with the hygienist, and a relationship built on trust is created. How many times has a patient asked the hygienist after a doctor’s exam, “Do I really need that restoration? Is the doctor’s work any good? What do you think I should do first?”
These questions are not a bad problem to have. Actually, it is a good thing because the patient respects the hygienist’s opinions. This allows the hygienist the opportunity to effectively communicate with patients about the doctor’s credentials and achievements such as, for example:
- Participating in free dental community service events
- Published articles
- Involved with local or national dental boards and associations
- Extensive training on a particular restoration or form of treatment
It also shows the patient that the hygienist is a supportive team player and on the same page as the dentist for the recommended treatment.
Understanding and adapting to your patients’ verbal and nonverbal communication styles is going to have a great impact on your current and future treatment outcomes. Well-respected author and speaker Steven R. Covey once stated in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”
When Printed Materials Are Not Enough
Every dental team member supports the doctor’s treatment recommendations and provides education via treatment brochures and before-and-after photos. Photos can help market and show the quality of work you have completed over time. However, seeing the work up close and personal has a greater impact on a patient’s decision to move forward with treatment.
One particular underused marketing strategy is Promoting Your Staff’s Smiles. The dental staff’s smiles add value to the practice. Ultimately, smiles are the image of the dentist’s business. As a business owner, a dentist should want his or her team to have good oral health. How can a dentist ensure that happens? The doctor does the dental work on staff members. When staff feels appreciated and valued by their employer, their loyalty to the practice increases.
I have worked in both private and group dentistry organizations where the philosophies are totally different regarding patient care. However, regardless of the setting I was in, it was important for me to treat the person and not just the disease. I learned that taking the time to listen to the patient made them feel respected and part of the treatment plan process.
For example, a woman in her early 30s presented to our office for a “cleaning” and complained of pain on her lower right posterior teeth. We took the necessary diagnostic radiographs and intraoral pictures. During that time, I learned that the patient had not seen a dentist since adolescence when she had a bad experience. I acknowledged her fear and explained to her that it was not an uncommon topic of discussion in our practice, and we have been able to improve patients’ perceptions and ease their anxiety due to the expertise and overall office quality of care.
Next, I proceeded to discuss my findings and alert her to the possibility of a crown recommendation. Since the patient had already picked up several restoration brochures in the lobby, she seemed confused and alarmed by the picture diagrams. When the doctor entered the operatory, I provided the patient’s background details and updated him on the patient’s concerns regarding a possible crown restoration.
After the doctor reviewed the diagnostics and completed the exam, he agreed with the need for a crown and explained the process to the patient. She still seemed apprehensive afterward. To help ease the patient and help with the conversation, since I was so confident in my doctor’s work, I proceeded to show off the new crown he had just placed for me a few months prior.
You could immediately see the patient become more comfortable, and she decided to schedule the crown prep procedure. After all the time we spent speaking with her about the crown, the funny thing was that she was more impressed with how white my teeth were. So she wanted to get that done too.
Due to our teamwork approach and patient interaction level, the patient complied with the treatment recommendations and completed the teeth whitening she really wanted within the month. That experience was a true win-win situation for both the practice and the patient. During the seven years I practiced in that office, I am happy to say that we developed a great hygienist-patient relationship over that time.
Dentists’ schedules are driven by hygiene patients. The more we continue to advocate for each other, the more increased treatment acceptance, better patient retention, more patient referrals, and an increase in practice profitability.
Dentists should use their hygienists and other staff members as a live walking and talking photo album. They are the ambassadors of the practice. Whether inside or outside, when a staff member can proudly show off the treatment their dentist has done for them, it will greatly benefit the entire practice.
Inside the practice, they can share their personal treatment experience with patients, and the dentists can answer any questions or concerns the patient may have. Utilizing this new team approach will ease patient fear, increase their confidence in your practice, and ultimately lead to the recommended treatment acceptance.
Outside the practice, people will notice how nice your teeth are and inquire about it. This can be a great referral source and an additional way to market your practice.
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