Home Orthodontics Soft skills can improve patient and staff communication

Soft skills can improve patient and staff communication

by adminjay


JoAn Majors, RDA, CSP, shows how communication leads to higher value and acceptance of care

Today’s technology onslaught can be overwhelming to learn and implement. It’s not just the acceptance of the technology and what it can provide the clinician; it’s always how we will get trained, who will “mother” the new technology in our practice, and how will we charge and be paid for it. Figuring out how to put soft skills around these technologies to create value and greater acceptance of care is the part I love. It builds confidence among the team and, ultimately, with the patients. Team members have such opportunities to offer benefits and clarity as long as a system is in place for them to do this. From the initial call to chairside and check out, we need soft skills systems in our practices. It’s no secret that the team and doctor often think differently when it comes to new technology.

My late father-in-law was a wonderful man who practiced dentistry for 40 years. He did not do bonded dentistry. He did not wear gloves or own an autoclave. He did many amalgams, and so did everyone else. The overhead was dramatically different as well. This does not mean that he could practice dentistry today the way he did when he graduated from dental school in 1948. He did the best he could with what he had to work with at the time. More reason to understand everyone on the team needs to be able to communicate with confidence about new technologies. Otherwise, the doctor’s time educating will be doubled, even tripled, doing a non-revenue generating task.

Many times when a recommendation for a product or service is made by the doctor, the patient will turn to the team member after the doctor leaves and say, “What would you do?” or “What did he/she say?” Then the acceptance or rejection of treatment could lie in the (I would love to add capable here) hands of the team member. Often a team member may not have been trained in verbal skills that create value for a particular service or technology. Leaving your team to (as I often say) “wing it with the words” is a terrible idea! When so much time and money is spent learning the techniques and technology for care, why would one leave how we convey this to our patients to chance? It’s a roll of the dice in an industry built on predictability.

A simple beginning to establish value for the CT scan, or any X-ray for that matter, is not to use terminology we have used in the dental practice for years. For example, we were trained to say, “cavity-detecting X-rays” or “necessary X-rays.” What about creating value by using the person who has the most perceived power in the practice? The doctor. Try offering a different approach simply by using information from the doctor, such as “When reviewing your chart this morning, the doctor ordered these X-rays (or this scan). Do I have permission to take the X-rays (or scan) the doctor ordered so it’s available when the doctor comes in, and you won’t have to wait?” Create value in both the service and the time involved by offering it this way.

On a phone call with a potential new patient who is “shopping,” mention the technology to set your practice apart — assuming that you have already connected with the patient on that call, and that you’ve already taken the mom’s and son’s name.

Team: “We would love to see Lukas for care. One thing that sets us apart is Dr. Ah-Mazing’s commitment to the best technology and techniques. Did anyone in your family wear braces?”

Patient: “Yes, I have older children, and I wore them years ago too.”

Team: “You might remember orthodontic records were made with a 2D or flat images and those ooey, gooey impressions to determine outcomes. Our practice is on the leading edge of today’s technology. You see, we now know the most predictable and safest way to determine how much tooth movement is possible for Lukas is with a 3D scan. It’s the only way to measure the thickness of the bone where the teeth are positioned. Our doctors love predictability, and so do our patients. Does this make sense?”

Patient: “Yes, that sounds much better than when I had mine!”

Team: “We even offer different types of treatment today. Sometimes we use digital scans for impressions and leave the old ooey, gooey stuff in the lab! When you and Lukas meet Dr. Ah-Mazing, he/she will be able to determine all these things. You’ll both love him/her. Would you be able to come in this week to meet Dr. and our team?”

With CT scans, the conversation becomes more complicated. Creating value for what some patients and team members perceive as an expensive X-ray is not always easy. We encourage you to point out things that are not obvious. Where standard X-rays are 2D, these cone beam scans are 3D. The thickness of the bone can actually be measured, and the patients LOVE to see this very space-age image. In our practice, patients will often get out of the chair and move closer to the monitor to see the doctor measure specific landmarks. For a cuspid exposure, no more guessing which side of the alveolus it is on. It’s something you show a patient or parent, and it’s impactful (pun intended).

Where the nerve is located is no longer a prediction, it’s now proven. It seems that implant dentistry was quickly receptive to CT scans as part of the routine regimen. Recently, an oral surgeon client who has practiced 30-plus years and placed implants, as well as many other quite complex surgeries over his career, said, “I know I can do it without the scan; I did for years. However, I do the scan today because it’s what’s right and best for patients. A lot of things are changing, and it doesn’t matter how good I was. It’s about how good I can be. If you close your mind, you’ll be left behind.” I love his answer; it makes sense. Today more orthodontic practices are embracing 3D technology as part of their routine. My husband, who is an experienced dentist, often says, “The more I know, the more I know that I don’t know.”

The team needs to have an understanding and, most of all, a belief in the treatment options available today. If this is not the case, your patients will not receive the enthusiasm they deserve about these wonderful services. Most companies will offer at least some training for your team when you purchase this equipment. Unfortunately, many do not actually have experience in communicating about these new services to patients. We shouldn’t fall so deeply in love with the perfect product or service that we forget to fall in love with communicating with the ideal patient. When you remember the patient is the one to serve, you won’t leave out the soft skills that allow you to connect with word pictures and questions that bring the confidence and trust for choosing care. It’s the reason I am blessed to be a speaker for some of the best technology companies in our industry. They are the companies that “get it” and understand the significance of having your team “get it.” Your team members can do remarkably well at “preheating” the possible services available with your care, skill, and judgment.

If we offer patients an unparalleled reason or create real value for the CT scan (or current technology), they will choose the service. Whether a patient is in your office, referred to you or to someone else who has a CT scanner, much thought and discipline need to be devoted to the discussion about the scan. Remember no more “wing it with the words” is allowed. If you want your team to be enthusiastically sharing, set them up with the systems for success!

In closing, we often tell patients that the only proven way to have 100% predictability on bone width or density, nerve location, or whatever relates to your patient’s situation is to do a CT scan. We follow this by asking the patient, “Does this make sense?” If you ask and wait, the person will answer in a positive way. Notice in our earlier phone call with the patient how we end most often with a question. Keep the patient engaged with questions and enthusiasm, and you will create value.

Until next time, think about taking a trip somewhere you’ve never visited and hiring a guide. The more experienced guide has done this route for years but now depends on a driver because he lost his sight some years back. On the other hand, you can hire a guide who may be less experienced but can see the route clearly. Ask yourself, who you would choose, and why?

See you on the road.





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