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Why a New Dental Communication Approach is Needed in the Today’s World

communicating with dental patientsBy Daniel Midson-Short

Medicine and dentistry have made incredible progress during the last century. With that progress, though, there has been other substantial changes in the relationship of the dentist and patient. 

There was a time when it was expected that the doctor adopt a paternalistic role. They were the person who patients trusted to tell them what was wrong and what to do. The patient was given a diagnosis and was expected to follow the good doctor’s advice. 

But times have changed. We now live in the age of the consumer. This means that the patient in your dental chair thinks like a consumer, even when it comes to their health. He or she is much more discerning and does not necessarily blindly follow the doctor’s recommendations. What's more, most dental treatment today is perceived as discretionary and costly.

With this changed mindset in patients, the dentist is caught between being expected to give a clinical opinion, but not trying to ‘sell’ treatment.

On top of this, patients are very wary of being sold to and will have immediate sales resistance.

I think it's safe to say that most dentists care about their patients' well-being and want them to choose the most appropriate treatment for their condition. However, a dentist tries to simply instruct their patient to proceed with a treatment, the patient may not necessarily comply, especially if the cost is high and the condition is painless. Even when patients ask their dentist to make a recommendation, they can still become distrusting of the dentist's motives if the proposed treatment is expensive and they're promised a long-standing, painless condition.

Because of these challenges, dentists need a new way to influence the patient to want appropriate treatment. This must be done in such a way that won’t damage the delicate dentist-patient relationship.

How to avoid ‘selling’ treatment

When we want to convince someone to buy or do something, it is intuitive to ‘talk-up’ the positive attributes of what we want them to buy or do. In sales training, this is known as benefit selling. Without realizing it, most of us 'benefit sell' in one form or another every day.

When a patient asks, "What would you do?" it is natural for us to respond to the patient's question with some sort of benefit statement. We say something like, “Well, I'd have an implant because it’s the best solution for a missing tooth".

A more effective form of communication, taught in the Primespeak lectures, is the antithesis of traditional sales techniques. This approach to new patient exams seems counter-intuitive, but the fact is we've seen better results without benefit selling the optimum treatment.

Essentially, the Primespeak new patient exam, which marries nicely with The Dawson Academy's new patient examination process, goes through several broad stages of influence:

1) The first stage has the dentist build rapport with and gather information from the patient. There is no danger of the patient perceiving a sales agenda, provided that no mention is made of any particular treatment solutions for the patient's condition.

2) The second stage requires the transfer of information from the dentist to the patient. Patients usually need a certain amount of dental education in order for them to be able to make intelligent decisions. The focus should be on the damaging results of an existing condition rather than the solution to a problem. This information is woven into a conversation that is not specifically about this patient, but a general comment about what can happen with this particular condition. We still have not done any benefit selling because we have not talked about solutions, and we have not talked specifically about this patient.

3) The third stage involves the patient overhearing some charting from the dentist to their assistant. The language used is simple, descriptive and factual regarding what can be seen. No mention is made regarding treatment. The patient can see the images of their teeth and is involved in a conversation regarding what they can see. If we have created appropriate concern about the long term consequences outcome of that particular condition, the patient is ready for treatment options.

4) The fourth stage involves going through the various options. The dentist needs a treatment objective to work towards and to guide the patient to. But the patient must not know the treatment objective. We want the patient to feel like this is entirely their decision and we will support whatever they choose.

A dentist using the Primespeak communication approach would guide the patient through the various options from the suboptimal treatment upwards. The undesirable options are progressively eliminated using a Primespeak technique called guild and tarnish.

Doing it this way, leaves the optimum treatment as the natural default. The advantage of the Primespeak approach is we are not selling anything and the patient has been given no proposal to resist. The patient will have ownership of their condition and their solution and the dentist cannot feel rejected.

Times have changed and a new approach is needed for communication with patients.

Primespeak was designed to remove the sales pitch and put the dentist in a comfortable position with each patient.

Interested in learning more about the Primespeak communication approach? Discover how you can apply this approach to build real patient trust and grow case acceptance at an upcoming course. You can view some testimonials of dentists who have attended and see course details here.

Dental Patient Communication Quiz

Photo Credit: Alejandro Excamilla via unsplash