Management + Leadership

Tips for negotiating with your patients

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This article originally appeared in the Career Transition section of spring Mouth in 2014. At the time, Katie Sowa was the outgoing editor-in-chief of ASDA. To read more from Mouth,click here.

Buying a car is the No. 1 way to practice negotiating skills. Countless hours are spent researching the specs, price point and availability of a desired make and model and searching for the best lease offers. It can take hours in a dealership to leave with a negotiated selling point.

Dentistry does not have the luxury of spending a whole Saturday to discuss treatment options with one patient. Some key points will help dental office negotiations become mutually advantageous for dentists and patients. Many Internet resources are available for patients to negotiate their prices on dental bills. You Tube videos feature phone conversations on how to lower the cost of expensive treatment options. This taboo of negotiating with patients is necessary to discuss in a world where patients have access to these learning tools.

Roger Dawson, founder of Power Negotiating Institute, explains why dentists have a hard time negotiating. Dentists and dental students tend to think negotiating is “unethical.” One of Dawson’s techniques is to ask for more than you need. This is difficult for dental students because we are taught to be upfront and honest with our patients. Dawson explains that this negotiating technique is not a form of dishonesty, but rather helping the patient to understand their best possible treatment outcomes.

Dawson is also the author of “Secrets of Power Negotiating.” His book offers a number of helpful tips for successful negotiation. YouTube videos feature phone conversations on how to lower the cost of expensive treatment options. This taboo of negotiating with patients is necessary to discuss in a world where patients have access to these learning tools.

  1. Use emotions while negotiating. In a clinical setting, this may be showing worry when looking at a radiograph. Help patients understand your concerns with their disease process by offering your own emotions. When patients declines an important treatment, express concern for their health and well-being to help them understand why the treatment is important.
  2. Understand that conflict can be good. If you disagree with your patient’s ideals, it’s important to express this with your patient to compromise. It’s easy to recommend treatment for patients at school based on faculty word. Post dental school, most of the decision making will be based on evidence-based dentistry, thus using scientific backing to show patients the need for specific treatment. If patients disagree, it’s always important to stand ground based on evidence-based dentistry and resolve conflict based on facts.
  3. Find a solution before gathering information. This tactic is very different from dental school teachings. When treatment planning, study your patient’s radiographs and previous notes prior to the treatment planning appointment. Find solutions to their dental problems before their first appointment. During the first appointment, use Dawson’s tactic of letting them vent and pick a position for what they think their treatment will consist of. Use this information along with your preemptive solutions to compromise.
  4. Understand that loss is an acceptable risk. If your patient refuses to compromise, it’s OK to help the patient find a place better suited for their treatment. This is harder in a school setting. According to a presentation at the January ASDA District 9 meeting by Dr. Colleen Greene, past ASDA president, it’s acceptable to trade and tape concessions to avoid the potential loss. Dr. Greene suggests setting expectations for all patients during school at the first appointment to avoid a loss in the patient and case credit. In a practice setting, be sure to not settle for a patient who will not work with you.

Dentists tend to avoid negotiating for the stigma associated with buying a car. Negotiation can be ethical with the right tools. It’s necessary to treat your patient to the standards set forth by the ADA Code of Ethics. Sometimes this Standard of Care requires work and negotiation.

~Dr. Katie Sowa, Houston ’15, 2013-14 editor-in-chief

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