“Public trust in dentists is at an all-time low and near the bottom of the entire professional population” according to my colleague on The Professional Advisory, Colin Ross, who produced an excellent piece in which he stated the results of a current IPSOS’ poll. The highlights of this shocking perception are at odds with the reality that a vast majority of practitioners have the highest moral and professional ethical standards. However, it is necessary for us as a profession to reverse this apparent public attitude if we wish to regain our standing from the inception of dentistry by exploring the attitudinal change, considering an antidote, and implementing them.
Exploring the Attitudinal ChangeExploring what changes appear to have negatively impacted our standing with the general public is the first step. Colin has highlighted some of them and I would like to expand on this premise.By happenstance while in a store next to a large multi-provider practice, I overheard a cell phone conversation of a woman whose voice level had reached an obvious degree of agitation. She apparently was seeking advice as to whether to proceed with the treatment suggested by the newer dentist who had been assigned her care. In no uncertain terms, she expressed the opinion that the new dentist was more interested in financial gain of the procedure when suggesting three crowns that the previous practitioner “was watching” than in a long-term benefit to her. Although difficult, I restrained myself from intervening.Ironically, those of us who have long advocated for sound business practices to be applied to normative dental operations suggested that perhaps the pendulum has swung too far and could be perceived as “commercializing the dental experience”. The pendulum analogy is often employed in times of seeming significant change over a relatively short time span, and it seems to fit our current situation. We have definitely seen major alterations in the way many dental facilities deliver care as well as recognizing the necessity to protect our core values and remain viable in today’s enhanced competitiveness.
Considering the AntidoteWhat is the potential antidote to counter the negative impression some segments have absorbed? In order to regain the stature and trust accorded to us by previous generations of patients, we have to project more strongly the message that dentists’ perceived difference of contemporary care is designed to accommodate patients’ needs and constraints, but the object, as always, is to protect their health and well-being. This is easier said than done.
Implementing Suggested AntidotesWe have to build into existing and new patients’ perception that their medical, clinical, and financial needs are foremost in clinical and administrative interactions with our dental offices.Spend more time performing a careful recare exam by the dentist with an explanation to patient and hygienist using onscreen x-ray as to the necessity to remediate a tooth/tissue issue in the oral cavity. The newer patient demographic wishes to be included in the decision making by health professionals regarding their welfare. This is an opportunity to display that the office focuses on their health needs.Inform rather than justify reasons for treatment to increase their perception of value and the appreciation of the interaction within the office. With many of the existing patients, a diminishing number of them display the attitude of “you’re the doc; go ahead and do what is necessary”. Even with that wonderful cohort of long existing patients, we should make the effort to explain the need for treatment, the benefits, and the opportunity for success.During a careful recare examination, highlight the pathology to show why treatment is necessary, beneficial, and financially advantageous to remediate a dental issue now rather than forestall and increase the cost with the possibility of a diminished outcome.
Include patients in the decision making process where the long-term benefits are accentuated. Present costs in terms of financial, timeline, and potential discomfort as well. The role of a treatment coordinator is particularly helpful in this regard.
Dealing with New Patient In-TakeApproximately 30 per cent of new patient demand is made up of those who have previously shopped the Internet, and, therefore, present without a level of comfort that comes from being referred by a trusted friend or colleague. The onus, therefore, is on us to carefully introduce this cohort to the fact that we are happy to provide them insight and hear their input to their particular treatment needs. A cautionary note: Be certain that your website accurately reflects the reality of a new patient’s experience.If significant treatment is necessary, we will prioritize it, and, if possible, stage it to fit the patient’s ability to handle the interaction by offering payment plans by optimizing family dental benefits for the treatment plan that is designed to minimize extensive remedial treatment in the future by judicious intervention now.Although unpleasant to contemplate, some patients harbour unflattering views as to how we conduct ourselves. It behooves us to confront this perception and deal with reversing this unfounded view by implementing the suggested antidotes in an effort to return to the time when people thought of themselves as dental patients rather than clients. In the process, we must dispel the feeling that they are being processed as opposed to being treated. The concept is about ALL of the team in CONNECTING with the evolving patient base populating our offices.