News |5 min read

HELP Is a Four-Letter Word!

Real-World Insights from AADOM Author Laurie Owens

We all know that trips to the dental office aren’t usually high on our patients’ priority lists. In fact, it’s one thing they typically try to postpone whenever possible.

According to the Adults Oral Health and Well Being Survey, 42 percent of Americans don’t see a dentist as often as they would like. Understanding your patients’ mindsets should shape your approach to how you work with and speak to them. While the skill of diagnosing needs and performing procedures is important, something as simple as how you speak to your patients can impact whether or not they return for their next visit.

Here are your 4 steps to HELP achieve success with your patients:

1. Heroic

Be the team that walks with their patients through the scary point of their lives. Between 9% and 20% of Americans avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear. Remember, you do this every day and it’s not scary to you, but it can be very emotional for other people.

For example, a new patient was so fearful about her dental treatment that she cried the entire appointment. The office’s treatment coordinator recognized her emotional state and offered to stay with her in the treatment room for as long as she needed. The staff member held the patient’s hand and talked all through the anesthetic being delivered to keep her mind off the treatment. When the hygienist was done, the patient was calm and comfortable enough to finish the appointment on her own and she thanked the treatment coordinator for walking her through the hardest part.

Your daily patients are facing their fears when they step into your office. You can be a vessel to help make it easier and provide emotional support to get through treatment.

2. Empathetic

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This is a skill and art, because it means to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Walk where they walked, experience what they have experienced, and, most of all, grasp how they are feeling.

Now, this doesn’t mean that if a patient calls to complain that you say, “Well, isn’t that just like so and so to make you feel bad.” Or, “That coworker has done this before. I will make sure to tell the boss.” Being empathetic does not mean throwing your team under the bus! Your response could be something like, “I am so sorry you are frustrated, and I know that Sarah will be sad that you were not happy. What can we do to make this right with you?”

Patient complaints could simply be because they misunderstood something or that information was misinterpreted. You can validate their feelings with your empathy, which will diffuse the situation, and still stand up for your team.

3. Listen

They say you have two ears and one mouth for a reason: We need to listen twice as much as we speak. The adage that we should listen to respond, not listen to react, still holds true today.

For example, if your patient calls upset, then they may just need to vent. However, if you become defensive, you will raise questions in their mind about how professional your office is. The more they question this, the more they will talk about it with friends and family. Just like the game “telephone,” the story will take on many different versions reflecting poorly on your practice.

Referral business is the best business, so let’s stop any problems before they morph into something ugly and out of control. Often, an open ear is all it takes! When people feel like they’ve been heard, it puts their mind at ease.

4. Perceive

Having perception and paying attention to your patients will give you a step up in how they can best receive information.

Are they someone that cannot stand to hear about anything clinical? Those types of patients will not sign up for treatment because you just freaked them out! What about the extremely anxious patient? If you start your conversation about the treatment without making sure they how important their comfort is to you, then they will be out of there like a streak of lightning!

It takes a very perceptive team member to make sure information is communicated to your patient in the best way for them to process it.

Think of it this way, your doctor determines that your patient needs a frenectomy. As you’re explaining the procedure, your patient chimes in with a lisp that they do not see the necessity of treatment. How would you handle that? This is their reality and they have had that lisp so long they may not even realize it. Now, do you say, “Can’t you hear yourself speak?” or “Don’t you hear your lisp?” That isn’t wise. What if instead, you were to show them how the procedure was to be done and how the results could help them form difficult words more fluidly? Also, what about having their children examined because it can be hereditary?

Remember that your patient only knows what they know…not what you know. It is their reality, and, in their mind, those are the facts. How you speak and interact with every patient can make all the difference.

Meet the Author

AADOM Author Laurie OwensLaurie Owens – Laurie Owens, CPC, CPB is the Director of Medical Billing Education for Devdent. She brings over 16 years of experience educating dental practices on billing medical insurance and claims payment techniques, including utilizing medical insurance for procedures related to oral systemic conditions. She is a member of AADOM, AAOSH, ADMC, AADC, and AAPC.

Jenny is the founding president of the AADOM Tennessee Valley Chapter and a lifetime AADOM member, receiving her Fellowship in 2017.

In her free time, she enjoys playing the piano, reading, blogging, traveling, and spending time with her family. She married Robby in May 2011, and they adopted their two daughters in 2018.


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