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Why did I say that? It's not what I meant!

Larry GuzzardoBy Larry M. Guzzardo, author of, "Powerful Practice" and "Getting Things Done"

Have you ever finished talking with a patient and wished you could take back everything you said, replacing the words with something that sounded better?  Why do we get tongue-tied when patients ask questions we know how to answer but are unable to respond clearly? Ask yourself; “How prepared am I to answer questions whenever they are asked, no matter who asks them or where they are asked?”

You see, no one can promise that patients will only ask questions at the proper time, exactly when you are ready, and in a place that is appropriate to talk. Consider the individual who calls your cell phone not knowing you are attending a business meeting and not able to talk, even though you answer the call. It’s really no different for a patient. For all they know, anytime they have a question, the time and place is perfect. Isn’t it? Well, not always, and there is a way to tell someone.

There is nothing like an interruption to impair concentration and destroy productivity. Instead, when a question unexpectedly pops up, seize the opportunity to shine. Here are some points to consider:

  1. Cushion your response by validating the significance of the question and indicating you heard the question before providing an answer. Try this; “Thanks for bringing that up.” Or; I’m glad you asked that.”

  2. Acknowledge the patient’s concern. “I wouldn’t want to have any treatment done that was not necessary.”

  3. Repeatthe question for clarity. Don’t get caught answering a question, that is not the one the patient asked. “Let me see if I heard you correctly; your concern was …”

  4. Answer the question. You don’t need to have an answer prepared; however, you do have to be prepared to know how to answer.
Not all questions should be answered exactly the same way. For instance, if the question is hopeless: “Can you help me? I’m just here on vacation and on my way home right now.”  It would be best to move on with a quick instruction to help the patient feel more comfortable. “So that you will be able to tolerate the trip home, try …” There is obviously no need to schedule an appointment for this individual.

Question or Objection in Disguise?

What if the question is an objection disguised as a question that’s trivial or a put-off? “I’ll have to get back in touch with you. Don’t you think I should arrange for a sitter first?” Patients with small children often have this question/objection. Likewise, often patients will put you off by stating that they need to check with their spouse first. The best response here is one that reverses the question and gives it back to the patient. “I can understand your situation. Since you’ll need someone to look after your child, let’s go ahead and schedule an appointment giving you enough time to make arrangements.”  Or; “I’d have to ask my spouse too. What do you think she’ll say?” Stay out of the phone tag game by not giving into trivial concerns or being put-off by teaching patients it’s not so easy to get off the hook with you. Deal with these types of concerns as soon as they occur. Because patients often make an objection by asking a question, using the correct technique while providing them with a solution, provides you the opportunity to neutralize their objection.

Sometimes patients ask questions that contain a myth or an old wives’ tale; “I’ve heard that this procedure can cause buzzing noises in your head. Are you sure I should go ahead with this?” A question of this nature requires a response that is an outright denial! “I’ve heard stories like that before and I can assure you it is simply not true.”
Patient questions

For the patient who has genuine questions that are actually true, the best response gives you the opportunity to agree with the patient. “That’s a lot of money. I don’t know if I can afford this.” A small fee to one patient can very well be a huge fee to another. Explaining that others have paid more will not get this patient to listen about any financial options available. Avoid an argument and further disagreement by agreeing with the patient. “You are right; I know what that is like. Many other patients have told me the same thing. We worked out a payment arrangement that was comfortable for their budget. How about working together so we can do the same for you?”

What types of questions do you encounter on a regular basis? Are you prepared to answer them?