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Questions are the answer to patient acceptance

Dr. David Gates
Dr David Gates, USA

Dr David Gates, USA

Thu. 10 December 2009


Dentists are wonderful technicians. Those who are also good communicators often rise to the top in terms of both practice success and industry leadership. By contrast, dentists without strong communication skills often struggle to say the right thing to their patients, or to say it in a way that makes the patient want to accept treatment.

For years, I’ve heard dentists say they don’t want to ‘sell’ dentistry. They equate sales with used cars, Tupperware and time-shares. But dentists do sell every day — however, there’s a great deal of difference between selling a car and encouraging patients to take good care of their health.

Some dentists balk at the word “selling” in dentistry. They claim that they’re ‘educating.’ But in fact, those two things are synonymous.

Thomas Kempis said, “The object of education isn’t knowledge, it’s action.”

And that’s true — the end goal of both education and sales in the dental practice is for the patient to accept treatment that will benefit him or her.

One of the most effective ways we can accomplish that goal is to ask questions.

What is the most successful advertising question of all time? “Got Milk?” What’s No. 2? “Would you like fries with that?” That simple question is asked an estimated 22 million times a day worldwide and has resulted in billions of sales of fries.

Now, a single powerful question might not work with your personality. What tends to be most successful is a series of questions, designed to ensure a real dialogue with patients.

In my practice, we use four types of questions to educate patients and spark a meaningful dialogue about their treatment issues and concerns. This is equally effective for necessary procedures such as fillings and crowns, and for more elective treatment such as Invisalign.

Offer alternatives

Alternatives of choice give patients a choice between a “yes” and a “yes” — not a choice between a “yes” and a “no.” Your front desk team has been asking this type of question for years: “Are mornings or afternoons better?” “Which would you prefer?” “Pay in full with a discount or distribute payments over several months? Which would you prefer?”

Your chairside assistant and hygienist should also be fluent with alternatives of choice: “We can straighten your teeth with braces or with Invisalign. Which would you prefer?” “We can straighten your teeth on the top arch only, or we can straighten top and bottom and improve hygiene for your whole mouth. Which would you prefer?” Either answer is a “yes” that moves the patient closer to treatment.

As the dentist, you can use alternatives of choice in a more clinical way: “Mrs. Crawford, which is more of a concern for you — the wearing down of your teeth, or the problem of keeping crooked teeth clean and free from bacteria?” Or, “Which is more important to you — the amount of time you’re in treatment, or how perfectly straight your teeth will be at the end?”

Repeat the objection

Many dentists tend to back off when a patient gives the least objection, even if it’s an objection that doesn’t really hold true. A more effective approach is to repeat the objection.

For instance, the patient might say, “I don’t think I’d wear the aligners.” The dentist replies in calm and inquiring fashion, “You don’t think you’d wear them?”

Or if the patient says, “I don’t care if my teeth are crooked,” then the doctor would reply, “You don’t care if your teeth are crooked?” Repeating the objection encourages dialogue, and is an effective way to ensure that the patient is sure of his or her objection before it’s accepted.

Ask for a decision

This may be the most stressful — and most essential — question of all, but the dentist has to ask for a decision on treatment. But you can’t wait for the patient to volunteer his or her decision — you must ask.

“Do you have any other questions before we go ahead?” “Kim can get your records done today. Does that sound OK?” “The cost for your Invisalign treatment is $XXX per month for the next 12 months. Does that work for you?”

Assume the sale

Finally, when you ask for a decision, your language should always be as if the patient had already accepted. We call this “assuming the sale.” Always assume that people are going to accept treatment and speak as though this is true. Your language must always assume that the patient will buy.

You never ask “if” they’ll accept Invisalign. It’s always “when.”

About the author

Dr David Gates has a cosmetic, reconstructive and implant practice in Las Vegas. He lectures throughout the United States, Canada, and Central America and is a member of the Invisalign Speakers Bureau.

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