The other day I drew the following diagram for a client during a meeting. I wanted to illustrate a scenario that happens often in dentistry: the gap between a doctor’s clinical education and the patient’s knowledge of dentistry.
This is not new and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there should be a gap. That’s what makes you a dentist. However, that gap creates distance between the clinician and the patient. The solution to bringing the two together is fairly simple: Either (1) the clinician needs to educate the patient or (2) the patient needs to learn dentistry.
Often times that gap creates awkwardness or insecurity on the part of the clinician. It’s easy to misjudge a patient’s lack of education for mistrust in your clinical skills. We can view hesitancy in a treatment plan as a sign they are unsure of your diagnosis. The obvious solution is to invest further in your clinical skills so that you can treat patients with full confidence. So you immediately book your next course with Spear, Kois, Dawson, Pankey, Hornbrook, etc. Only that doesn’t solve the gap. In fact, it makes it larger.
While clinical excellence and education is a must (it’s a have-to, actually), it only widens the gap between your expertise and the patient’s knowledge.
Side Note: This article is not an either/or position. This article is both/and. You must invest in your clinical skills AND you must educate the patient. Alright then, back to the article.
If the solution is not more education. And the solution is not for patients to educate themselves, then it can only be one thing: you must educate the patient. In fact, the only thing that can bridge the distance is you stepping over that gap, taking them by the hand and leading them to the other side.
EDUCATION AND LISTENING
I think we could summarize the goal of every dental appointment into two parts: Patients should: (1) be cared for and (2) learn something.
A report produced by the Institute for Healthcare Communication found:
“Extensive research has shown that no matter how knowledgeable a clinician might be, if he or she is not able to open good communication with the patient, he or she may be of no help.”
-Asnani MR. (2009). Patient-physician communication. WestIndian Med J, 58(4):357–61. pubmed
In the medical world, research clearly indicates strong relationships between a clinician’s communication skills and a patient’s follow through with treatment AND adoption of preventive behaviors. Their studies show the clinician’s ability to explain, listen and empathize has a profound impact on health outcomes as well as patient satisfaction.
That’s it: Listening and explaining. It most likely impacts your patient’s health and satisfaction more than your expertise.
So… if you’re feeling a disconnect with your patients over treatment… it might be time to analyze your communication skills.
Educating and listening to patients. Let’s call it ONE to ONE Dentistry.
ONE TO ONE
- ONE to ONE dentistry is treating each patient exactly how they need to be treated.
- ONE to ONE is personalized service that focuses on every patient individually.
- It’s delivering knee to knee, consultative care in a world of corporate, regionalized healthcare systems.
I own a dental marketing company. We work with practices all across the country. We have some practices that call themselves “neuromuscular.” Others would refer to themselves as “complete care” dentistry. While others describe their approach as “bioesthetic”. While all these distinctions are valuable, what I have observed is the underlying heartbeat to each of these philosophies is ONE to ONE patient care.
ONE to ONE care is arguably the most important thing you do in your practice. And while every single patient you are with is valuable in that moment, I think we could make the case that the NEXT patient could be the most important.
THE MOST IMPORTANT CLINICAL PROCEDURE
If you think about it, the new patient exam is the most frequent clinical procedure you will perform. If the average dentist sees 2 new patients a day and they work 16 days a month, they’ll see 32 new patients a month or 384 a year. What other procedure do you perform that often?
I regularly witness meticulous tray set ups and clinical execution of crown preps. Yet, in the same practice, I see unprepared, unchoreographed and unscripted new patient appointments. By default, its frequency creates a routine that becomes unimpressive and unmagical if we’re not careful.
A new patient exam’s frequency creates a routine that becomes unimpressive and unmagical if we’re not careful.
My argument is simple: If it’s the most frequent procedure you perform, it ought to be the most prepared for. Right?
I think the difficulty comes down to tools. If you’re preparing for a crown prep, you make sure your assistant has all the right burs set. The appropriate impression material is on hand or the intraoral scanner is in the room and on. All the tools are in order, the patient is numb and you’re ready to go. But prepping tools for a new patient exam? That’s a whole other thing. Where do you even start?
Some really great tools would be:
These tools aren’t as easy to pick up in your hand, but they’re probably some of the most valuable for your practice. They are the very definition of ONE to ONE care.
ONE to ONE dentistry isn’t anything new, but in the context of corporate, regionalized healthcare systems, it sure can stand out. At the end of the day, it’s treating humans with dignity. It’s treating people the way we want to be treated. It’s starting off slow so that we can move fast later. It’s the hard work of building a foundation, so when you need to ask for trust, the patient doesn’t hesitate. That’s ONE to ONE dentistry.