Patient communication is key to high treatment acceptance rate

Making sure the patient is comfortable at every communication point with a dental practice is important when it comes to him/her accepting the treatment that the dentist ends up recommending.

Treatment plan acceptance is achieved through understanding the patient’s goals, educating the patient and coming to an agreement with the patient on what is best for his/her overall oral health. This process of understanding the patient’s goals begins when the patient first makes contact with the front office and continues all the way through the treatment diagnosis from the dentist.

When a patient calls a practice to make an appointment for the first time, the front office should ask the new patient if he/she has a few minutes to share some information, which helps the office prepare for the first visit. Information gathered and recorded should include the date of the call, the name of the staff member who spoke to the patient, dental benefit information and a few oral health history questions to evaluate the appropriate service and amount of time needed for the first visit.

In order to assess why the patient contacted the practice, the office should find out if the patient has any chief complaints and what his/her oral health goals or concerns are. Patients want their concerns to be heard and want to feel like the message was received. The information shared by the patient should then be passed along to other members of the dental team. This will help in the preparation for when the patient comes into the office, said CDA Practice Analyst Katie Fornelli.

“Every point of conversation with the patient should be centered on building rapport and trust with the patient, which in turn leads to treatment acceptance. One way to build patient trust is to view your dental team as a relay — everyone in the office should pass information about the patient onto the next person at the office and think of it as passing the baton,” Fornelli said.       

Consistent, positive communication across all members of the dental team creates a trusting practice environment.
During the morning huddle of a patient’s first visit, the dental team can highlight the notes taken leading up to this point. When the patient comes in, the practice should greet the patient by name and welcome him/her to the practice. Preferably, the person who spoke to the patient on the phone or whom confirmed the patient’s appointment should also be the greeter. They can also discuss the referral source of the new patient, and mention the referral source by name (i.e., “That was very nice of Rachel to refer you to our practice.”).

“Patients are more likely to accept treatment if they feel comfortable during initial interactions with the staff,” Fornelli said. Patient acceptance is the result of a culmination of the patient’s interactions with the dental team — the patient might have a great conversation with the doctor, but if the office manager greeted the patient with a frown, it could make the patient question the treatment plan recommendation.

To further the baton passing, when the doctor enters the consultation room or operatory, the dental assistant can provide an introduction to the new patient, again using the notes that had been collected up until this point. This should be phrased such as, “Doctor, I’d like you to meet …” Summarize what has already been covered with the patient (i.e., chief complaints, questions about the practice, concerns the patient has expressed).

The dentist should spend a few minutes discussing the patient’s oral health goals and/or concerns and confirm the responses the patient provided to the dental assistant. The dentist can provide his/her recommendation for treatment, but be sure to incorporate the patient’s goals into the presentation. For example, “I understand that you are concerned about the longevity of your tooth replacement, therefore, I believe a dental implant is in your best interest”.

This shows that the dentist is listening to the patient’s concerns and is on the same level.

“Lay out all of the options the patient has in terms of treatment, make a recommendation and then let the patient make the decision on what is best based on the education and treatment options provided,” Fornelli said. “A patient who is comfortable, informed and feels empowered is more likely to accept treatment.” No one likes to be told what they need; rather we like to be in control after we have been given all the tools to make an educated decision.

Dentists who are interested in reviewing scripts that their office can use at each step of the way in the patient process, can visit the Practice Support area of cda.org.

Available resources:

Patient Financial Protocols

The Treatment Coordinator: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?

Understanding the Practice’s Financial Options

The New Patient Process: Making the Best First Impression with Your New Patients