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Communication Can Create Trust between Dental Practices and their Patients

Posted August 7, 2017

Lindy Benton

What is one of the single most important requirements for the successful engagement of patients? What is likely missing from getting patients to proceed with case acceptance and treatment that you’ve recommended? What might be lacking in your practice when it misses its goals? In all likelihood, in regard to each of these specific areas, as cliché as it may sound, a lack of trust is probably the one impediment keeping you from accomplishing each of these things.

Trust me. (See what I did there?) To continue reading this piece on building your practice – first, you must trust that as its author, I have wisdom to impart based on either my credentials or experience in the dental industry. And second, you must trust that what I’m telling you is true.

The Truth Hurts. 

Let’s talk about trust for a moment as we explore some of the possible impediments a lack of it may have on your practice. If you struggle with poor case acceptance, your patients likely lack trust in:

  • You or your abilities;
  • Your opinion that they need your services;
  • The urgency of the recommended treatment; or
  • Their relationship with you and the value of the care you’re recommending.

Don’t take my word for it; these truths actually are based on feedback from Andrea Greer, RDH, a dental practice consultant at Jameson Management. Greer has a deep background working both inside and with dental practices. If your practice is struggling, there’s a good chance that trust (or lack of it) is a key problem. The good news is that you might be able to turn your patient’s attitudes around through some quick action, which may have a bigger impact on your practice than you might think.

Ask questions. 

Asking questions and listening to your patients can go a long way in establishing trust with them. Some questions you might think about asking may include: “How can we help you?”; “Can you tell me what you like the most and least about your teeth, your smile or even visiting us at the dentist?”; “What are your expectations of me, your dentist?”; “What are your goals for your mouth, your teeth and your smile?”; “When would you like to have those goals met?”

When you ask your patients for feedback, you need to be prepared to use that feedback, Greer advises. Doing nothing with it will undermine the trust you are trying to create with those who support your practice. “The only reason the questions get asked is so that you can refer to the feedback multiple times over, when appropriate while you are working with your patients,” Greer told me. “You must actually use the patient feedback with the data you’ve collected.”

Painting a picture.

It’s also important to remember that most adults are visual learners so you’ve got to paint a visual picture for those you serve so they best understand the outcomes you are trying to reach. For example, you might use a dental camera to capture oral images of each of your patients that you can use as a solution to engage in conversations and discussions, seek their input regarding expected outcomes of care and even to provide them education about the care you will provide. These cameras are inexpensive, easy to use, patients can see the need for treatment, right away, and you’re able to export, print and save any images or videos into the patient record.

Communication is healthy.

Communication of any kind with patients can turn most any situation into a positive response, and is a necessary part of building any healthy relationship; it doesn’t necessarily have to start when your patients enter the office when greeted by a member of your team. Patient communication continues throughout the visit and checkout and even during the next appointment scheduling process. But communication can go further than that. You can communicate effectively and efficiently with patients between visits, via email, mail, and in some cases, even text messaging. Where this can truly be beneficial is when you must address changes to your practice; for example, changes in operational hours or even insurance plan coverages.

In these specific scenarios, Greer says that they provide an opportunity to engage in long-term communicating with patients, informing them how they may be affected, what any changes mean and how the changes might benefit them in the long run. Long-term communication strategies can improve and enhance the relations with your patients, and help you build even more trust with them.

Balance internal needs with external requirements. 

When working to build trust with patients, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Dental leaders cannot ignore other internal pressures. While building trust with external audiences, you shouldn’t forget to know thyself. Team members are a top concern for the health of any practice. Dentists often worry about how to build a team around them, but also seem consumed by potential lack of production from office members.

In addition to this, many dental leaders worry about regulation and compliance. “Under the umbrella of HR, compliance is a big issue that is facing the dentist today. You can have the best team in the world, but compliance is still a big issue – how people are hired; how HIPAA and OSHA are handled; team training, and even communication encryption,” Greer said.

These regulations can be a huge hurdle for dental practices. Handling of HIPAA-related information, for example, and keeping the information safe on behalf of patients also can be a way to improve trust with patients. While increasing trust with patients might be a challenge, Greer is confident that communication with patients can help you grow your practice, increase profitability and build a better environment in which your team can thrive.

Along with these strategies, Greer provides dental practice leaders additional insight in a recent webinar she hosted in partnership with NEA Powered by Vyne. You can listen to the entire recording here:

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