You’ve just had a useful and informed discussion with your patient about a recommended treatment; outlined all the pros and cons, discussed likely timescales, cost estimates, benefits and shown examples of similar work you have undertaken for other satisfied patients.
Many clinicians expect, or hope for, a straightforward :’Yes, let’s go with that‘ or ‘No, not for me thanks‘.
If you do get the immediate go ahead from a fully-informed patient, then congratulate yourself on a good and well reasoned discussion. Say no more than ‘Thank-you‘ and book the patient in after leaving them with the required treatment plan and information.
More likely the response will be non-committal or the patient will ring reception later to defer or cancel the appointment using words like:
- ‘Ok, let me think about that’
- ‘Not sure that is for me’
- ‘Sounds a bit expensive’
- ‘Not sure I like the sound of that’
- ‘Have been thinking about it and . . . .’
- ‘Maybe another time.’
Unless your patient says something along the lines of – ‘No thank-you, I have listened to your recommendation and all you have to say but this treatment is definitely not for me‘, he or she is not yet sure and needs some more help and support before making the decision.
The patient isn’t actually saying ‘no’ but is not yet convinced for whatever reason. These
are buying signals which mean ‘Maybe, but convince me a little more please.‘
It can be very easy to thank the non-committal patient and leave the treatment plan with them to come back to us when ready. Hence the very long list of outstanding treatment plans which I often find on practice management system in many of the practices I visit.
This ‘leave it for now’ approach is often seen as a quick and easy way out for all. After all the patient doesn’t want to go ahead with it despite all that we have said and surely it is polite and good customer service to stop there? Wrong on all counts.
- Quick & Easy? – Yes at that moment in time maybe, but the wrong approach. The dentist, Treatment Co-ordinator and maybe others have already spent a lot of time talking through what he or she believes is right for the patient. We don’t want to lose that time and a complex treatment appointment, unless we know for certain the patient does not wish to go ahead.
- Polite? – No, we haven’t encouraged the patient to talk through their concerns or the time and opportunity to ask questions.
- Good Customer Service? – No, the treatment plan is right for the patient and it seems that we haven’t given all the information needed or identified concerns which the patient still has and which we may be able to resolve for them.
Buying signals are very subtle and whenever speaking with patients, either in the surgery or in follow-up conversations, we need to constantly watch out for them and react.
Always remember that unless there is a definitive ‘no’, we should be politely asking useful, probing, open questions to help the patient better understand and be more open about their concerns. This approach helps us to overcome and resolve concerns and uncertainties, which is our job.
Of course there will always be the occasional ‘no, thank-you‘ from patients but if we have done our job properly, we should be confident that the decision has been made for all the right reasons and we accept that it isn’t right for the patient at this moment in time.
Understand why the treatment wasn’t right and look out for trends. If more and more people are saying ‘no’ for similar reasons, then we may need to do something about it – maybe new equipment, alternative pricing, finance packages or an alternative solution which meets the needs of more of our patients.
‘Open’ questions encourage the patient to talk and cannot be answered by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ which can often end the conversation and make you feel awkward as to where to go next:
- ‘Can we make/remake an appointment for you?’ – Closed question, likely answer ‘No thanks’ and difficult to turn around if the answer is no.
- ‘When is a good time for us to book you in for this treatment?’ – Open question without a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
- ‘Does that answer all your questions?’ – Closed question likely to prompt ‘yes’ as a quick escape.
- ‘What are your thoughts on the treatment options and my explanation?’ – Open question which will encourage discussion of concerns or uncertainty.
- ‘What is it about the treatment you are unsure of?’ – Open question to help you answer and resolve.
- ‘How much would you feel comfortable paying monthly for this treatment? ‘ Open question which helps to look into affordability and finance options.
- ‘Tell me your thoughts about the treatment’ – Open request for feedback
- Always end a conversation with ‘When would be a good time to speak with you again?’ – Open question which leads to agreement to follow-up and discuss further
Always remember the old adage that we have two ears and one mouth and should aim to listen far more than we speak by encouraging discussion. The conversation is not going well if you are doing all the talking (unless of course the patient still has a mouthful of instruments).
Over time you will start to incorporate some of the more common concerns into your original discussions with the patient which will improve your treatment acceptance levels and reduce follow-up time.
The good thing about looking out for and responding to buying signals is that it gets much easier with practice. You will soon see that most patients come up with very similar concerns , uncertainties and questions. You will quickly become familiar with and confidently respond to more of these over time using convincing and proven answers.
Why not run off your list of outstanding treatments today and try some of these techniques by calling patients and really understanding why they are still undecided?