Patient consultations may seem pretty straightforward—present the diagnosis, provide some information and education to the patient, recommend treatment options, and finally discuss payment. However, there’s more involved with creating an environment for ideal patient consultations and increasing case acceptance than scheduling an appointment, performing an examination, and informing the patient of the diagnosis.
A number of factors impact the success of initial patient appointments and subsequent case and treatment consultations. Everything that is said, done, and experienced during patient encounters influences a patient’s trust in the practice and their willingness to accept the presented treatment plan. In fact, everything that’s involved with the overall patient interaction—from check-in to how patients are transferred from one team member to another—influences the patient experience.
Fortunately, case acceptance can be increased when dental practice team members know what to do, when, and how, as well as what to say, the questions to ask, and how to respond to patients to help establish and maintain an open relationship. Unlike giving a patient a diagnosis, a treatment plan consultation is a conversation between the dentist and patient about their oral health, the problems that require a solution, and what is needed and recommended to correct their condition. When patients perceive the problems as significant and that the practice truly understands them, they’ll be more likely to take action—in other words, accept the treatment plan and generate revenues for the practice.
Therefore, first and foremost, dentists and their team members should use what they’ve learned about the patient’s priorities and their perception of their smile as a guide for delivering reasonable explanations for the proposed treatment plan, tying in the things that are important to them. Visual aids—including models, digital photographs, and virtual wax-ups—should be incorporated into the discussion to describe the treatment and anticipated results. When patients see images of their smile and teeth, they’re better able to appreciate and comprehend the proposed treatment.
During the presentation, information should be presented in a logical way, without technical or medical jargon that patients might not understand. Findings should be presented simply in a manner that emphasizes the benefits of treatment and how it can be sequenced according to their needs.
Once the proposed treatment plan has been presented, it behooves dentists and their team members to ask open-ended questions about how the patient feels about the treatment plan and how they’d like to proceed. Active listening, maintaining eye contact, observing and using body language, and paying attention to verbal and non-verbal cues that could indicate how the patient feels about what they’ve just learned is significant to continued patient engagement during the consultation.
In general, good communication is the foundation for successful patient consultations and case presentations. This requires sensitivity toward patients, which occurs when dentists and their team members consider their thoughts and feelings while disregarding their own pre-conceptions. That said, it’s important that dentists and team members never dismiss or disregard a patient’s concerns or questions, in addition to being mindful of how their own non-verbal cues can be either supportive or contradictory.
Of course, the fees involved with treatment may influence the patient’s decision to proceed. Even when dentists and team members maintain great relationships with their patients, the conversation about treatment fees can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. For this reason, conversations about finances should be separate from the conversations about oral healthcare and handled by a financial and/or treatment coordinator. Because patients may feel embarrassed discussing their budget and payment ability, the financial coordinator should ensure the patient is comfortable; that facts about treatment cost, estimated insurance coverage, and out-of-pocket expenses are presented in writing in a clear and organized way; and that the patient is given two to three payment options to choose from in order to decide how to best initiate treatment.