Patients often know that they need dental treatment, even before they are told of their problems during a dental appointment. They can look in the mirror and see missing, discolored, or broken teeth without an advanced degree. It doesn’t take years of specialized training to recognize bad breath or diagnose chewing problems. So why don’t patients come to our offices demanding the services they want or need?
Patients do not accept treatment recommendations for four basic reasons:
Combinations of these factors can paralyze an individual, which can prevent him or her from inquiring about needed services or listening to factual responses. Once a patient’s unique circumstances are appreciated and analyzed, a consultation occurs with the goal of case acceptance.
Patient consultations should be structured as deliberate conversations between the dental professional(s) and patient, which addresses the patient’s dental condition, relevant medical condition(s), obstacles to treatment, treatment options, risks, and relevant details including time and cost. It should be recognized that it is almost impossible to provide the patient with an exhaustive understanding of all treatment options and details. The dentist needs to identify, educate, inform, and advise the patient about all relevant information in layman’s terms.
This article suggests adhering to a formula that accounts for the patient’s condition, history, psychology, expectations, and requirements to communicate appropriate information in a logical sequence. This formula is known as the “4 Consultation Questions”
It is much more important for patients to first understand the results of treatment rather than the methods used. Also, discussing healing, surgical risks, restorative materials, or provisional options at this time can be confusing and irrelevant. Once a treatment outcome is identified, other considerations become more relevant because the patient can recognize that he or she is working toward a specific treatment goal.
. Complicating factors and risks need to be discussed once the patient agrees on the treatment objective. However, until the treatment goal is established, the discussion of methods and treatment sequence are not important and may be distracting.
Patients need to know what they will look like and how they will function during the treatment process. They need to be reassured they will not be incapacitated or disfigured during treatment.
Time questions include duration of treatment from beginning to end, number of appointments, duration of appointments, and flexibility of appointments . Organizing the sequence of treatment to optimize appointment utilization is an excellent strategy to minimize time commitments for busy patients.
Stated or not, this is an important issue for almost all patients. For some, it is a paralyzing issue. It is a concern that requires more than a casual reassurance about local anesthetic. Include a conversation about how the patient will feel following appointments and at the completion of treatment
Of all obstacles to treatment, anxiety about pain and discomfort are the most common “hot button” issues that either emotionally motivate or incapacitate patients.
This is usually the first question patients ask and the last one that should be answered. Often, patients are overwhelmed with the process, possibilities, and technical information presented. Regardless of the doctor’s bedside manner or relationship to the patient, a certain level of tension usually exists during consultations. The easiest question for a patient to think of in this situation is “How much?”
Instead, patients should understand that the ultimate outcome of their treatment is the total result, not a sum of its individual parts.
Patients are frequently aware of their dental needs, but often avoid treatment for many different reasons, many of which are beyond the control or influence of the dentist.
When consultations satisfactorily answer the “4 Questions,” patients often accept treatment and schedule appointments. If not, they either ignore their conditions, return for additional discussion, or move to another office. Insightful, deliberate, structured planning can help ensure patients will want to schedule the treatment they need.