Your job during the course of your dental education is to learn what you need to become an excellent practitioner. Much of that knowledge needs to be applied in order for you to learn effectively. Although your school provides you with patients, some of them seem to slip through your hands (metaphorically speaking, of course). Patients are here one day, but gone the next. Some leave because they’re frightened. Some leave because they can’t afford the treatment. But some leave because they don’t want to do what you’re suggesting needs to be done. Since your success in dental school depends on your ability to get your patients to agree to the treatment you recommend, it’s important to understand how to achieve a higher rate of case acceptance. Here are some suggestions.
- As a dental student, you are a novice. In order for your patient to gain confidence in you, you need to appear knowledgeable about your patient’s history. If you have prior radiographs, review them before your patient arrives. Familiarize yourself with the medical history and past dental treatment as well as any medications that have been previously prescribed. Determine whether or not there is any need for a medical consultation before beginning treatment. Review your findings with faculty members prior to meeting with your patient. Ask tons of questions, but come up with definitive treatment options and understand them.
- Make sure your attention is focused on the patient. Learn how to pronounce your patient’s name properly. If culturally appropriate, greet your patient with a firm handshake and make direct eye contact. Eliminate all distractions such as cell phones and conversations with colleagues. Find a position that allows you to input data into the electronic health record while still observing nuances in your patient’s body language and verbal cues.
- It’s very important for you to educate yourself about your patient’s treatment. But your job does not stop there! You must be prepared to educate your patient as well. As Sy Syms used to say when advertising his discounted clothing store chain, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” In order for patients to readily accept your treatment plans, they must understand what you are suggesting they do. Educating your patients is the key to achieving more understanding and case acceptance.
- In order to best educate your patients, you may need to help them visualize their problems and treatment outcomes. Digital radiographs and photographs can be enhanced, enlarged and altered in order to help your patients see what you see and what you think you can do. Original and waxed up study models provide a three dimensional representation of the patient’s mouth. Physical examples of implants, dentures and partials are great adjuncts to gain patient understanding and acceptance. When all else fails, a simple drawing or analogy can help eliminate confusion.
- Try to see your setting as your patient does. Are you dressed professionally and neatly? Is your lab coat clean? Is your operatory tidy? Your patient must feel immediate confidence in your personal hygiene and the sterility of your instruments. In order to appreciate your patient’s experience, sit in your patient’s chair and figure out what your patient will notice. Is there debris in the cuspidor? Are there stains on the ceiling? Is the music relaxing? Make your patients’ experience as positive as possible by seeing the world through their eyes.
- Once you have explained your treatment plan and cleared up any uncertainty on the part of your patient, you and your patient must agree to a definitive plan of action. Before the patient leaves the office that day, make sure that the next visit is scheduled. Later that evening, follow up with a thank you phone call expressing your appreciation for your patient’s confidence.
The patient care portion of your dental school experience has the potential to be very gratifying. It can also be very frustrating when patients don’t comply with your treatment plans, or, even worse, don’t show up for their appointments. We are confident that your case acceptance rate will increase and your patient no-show rate will decrease over time as you gain expertise. In the meantime, try our suggestions, and see if your patients begin to just say, “Yes!”
~ Drs. Peltz and Studley, DOCCUPATIONS