By Dr. Kent Johnson in Park City, UT
It is not uncommon for a patient to come to a dentist for an exam and end up doing nothing at all. What makes this surprising is that it happens even when the patient has been referred to your office from a friend, have done research on you and decided that you are the best person to provide treatment. It is likely that something has prompted them to seek out treatment. You are uniquely qualified to provide that treatment and yet they don’t accept it. Why?
Something happens to that patient between a friendly, “Hello, nice to meet you” and the eventual, “I’ll think about it.” We dentists might believe they are actually thinking about it. The truth is, they would leave skid marks getting out of the office if they could, but instead they use ‘polite evasion’ to gracefully extract themselves from an uncomfortable situation.
Usually what happens is the dentist has pushed too hard without even realizing and it came across as “salesy.” Or the patient has been given a lot of options and is totally confused.
The unfortunate thing is you might have a patient that desperately needs and could benefit from your treatment. They should feel blessed and grateful that they found you and you can help them. If they don’t trust you, though, they won’t proceed and that patient is now going to continue with the same problems that brought them to you in the first place or even a worsening of their problems.
Unfortunately, this was my reality before I learned the method taught via Primespeak.
PrimeSpeak is a way to present treatment options to patients in a very comfortable way for both the doctor and the patient.
Communication as the core focus
A strong relationship with every patient is key to an extraordinarily successful practice. Each patient wants to feel like you are interested in them as a person, that you care and are aware of their needs. They want to feel like you are more interested in their problems than you are in your solutions. For 10 minutes or so forget about teeth and what you can do to fix them. Just focus all of your attention on that patient and what they are saying. They will love and appreciate you for it.
Getting prepared before the appointment
One of the key things we have changed in our office is the way a new patient flows through the office. I used to greet a new patient with no idea of what their specific problems were. Then I’d just try to figure out the treatment plan options on the fly. The patients could tell I wasn’t prepared and I would lose trust. Taking the time to gather information ahead of the appointment is crucial to trust between you and your patients. Another key is to continually check in with the patient during the consultation process. Sometimes we develop a great relationship at the beginning of the appointment and never notice that we have completely lost the patient halfway through.
Cut down the amount of time you talk
From time to time stop talking and check in with the patient. Ask something like, "I feel like I have been doing all of the talking, do you have any questions or comments? How are you doing with all of this?" Or, "I am worried that I am talking about things other than what you came in for and if you are not interested in hearing about this let me know". Basically, the message is that "the focus here is on you, not me." With Primespeak, there is no pressure from the dentist; in fact, it is quite the opposite. Done properly it should create an environment where not only will the patient want to choose the best treatment option, but insist upon it.
Your team will set you up for success
In our office, when the new patient comes in they are greeted by Mary. She knows they are coming in and has probably already talked to them on the phone. She will sit and visit with them. One purpose is to get to know them, but the most important purpose is to find out what their treatment objectives are. She also will very often discover obstacles to the patient proceeding with ideal treatment. It is also an opportunity for her to talk up the office and the credentials of the dentist. She will then take full mouth photographs for "records." We don't want the patient to think we are taking the photos to do a sales presentation. At that point, she will turn the patient over to the dental assistant for x-rays, blood pressure, medical history, etc. That gives Mary and me 10 – 15 minutes to go over the photos and her discussion. During that time I will want to answer 4 important questions.
Move the patient from the ‘POTO’ to the ‘DOTO’
What does the patient want or expect? They will usually have some working theory on what is wrong and how to fix it. Their fix usually involves painting something on the teeth or taking a pill. It is a good idea to know what that is. This is sometimes called the ‘Patient’s Optimal Treatment Objective’ (POTO).
Next, consider what they really need? This is usually a treatment plan that will give them strong, healthy teeth for a long time. This is called the ‘Dentist Optimal Treatment Objective’ (DOTO) This is going to make them look better and feel better but it is likely going to be more expensive than they would like it to be.
What is going to prevent them from going from POTO to DOTO? What are the obstacles that Mary has discovered? Is it possible it is a financial issue? The truth is the problem is almost always a lack of urgency. The patient is not aware of the problem and is definitely not aware of the consequences of not doing treatment.
Help the patient understand the reality
This brings us to the most important question: what are the damaging results of existing conditions? Usually, this means they are going to be in worse pain, they are going to lose teeth or they are going to require much MORE expensive treatment than they already need.
This is all done before I have even looked in the patient's mouth. Between the photos and the x-rays, it is unlikely that I can't come up with a complete treatment plan for any patient. Now I can organize my thoughts before I begin to talk to the patient.
I can use the time before I look in the mouth to educate the patient about their problems without it being about them, yet. I can use the time doing the clinical exam to help the patient to be aware of the problems that are in their mouth that they might be completely unaware of. I can also present treatment options in a much more organized and easily understood manner.
I believe with Primespeak, everybody wins. There is no stress on the dentist because they are not trying to ‘talk the patient into’ anything. There is no stress on the patient or that relationship because they don’t feel like you are trying to sell them anything. But once they really understand what is going on in their mouth and the potential disasters that await them, they are much more likely to proceed with ideal treatment.
This is a very brief summary of some of the basic concepts of Primespeak that I’ve learned and added into my daily new patient exams. To really get a full appreciation of it, and benefit for yourself, I would recommend Primespeak seminar.