Have you ever had a patient who, during or after your case presentation, looked you straight in the eye and said, “Well, thanks, but I’ve got to go home and think about it?” Have you ever wondered what it is they need to “think” about? Chances are they are thinking more about how the treatment you just recommended fits into their life as opposed to understanding all the technical aspects you shared about their dentistry. You might believe that treatment acceptance increases if you provide patients with a lot of patient education. Education really works best when the patient is ready for treatment. A patient’s readiness is often impacted by non-clinical issues, which include their budget, what they’re doing with their family, their hobbies, and their work schedule. This is especially true when the treatment plan is large, complex, and expensive.


The key to improving a patient’s treatment acceptance is recognizing that one size does not fit all when it comes to the patient experience and how you talk with them about their care needs.

 Educate Less, Understand More

To better understand your patients, it’s useful to make a cultural shift away from merely educating your patient towards understanding them. Let me suggest to you that
there are basically two types of patients: those with minimal care needs and those with complex care needs.

Minimal care patients have few problems with their teeth. Their dental conditions are not causing them much discomfort. Chances are they are not experiencing pain and they are generally happy with their teeth and the appearance of their smile. Typically, treatment plans for these types of patients can be completed in just a few visits. These days, you may see more minimal care patients because patients have benefited from fluoride and are more aware of the need for routine daily dental care. Your minimal care patients behave differently than your complex care patients and are much more ready for care, often at the first appointment.

Complex care patients, in contrast, have significantly more dental conditions, which result in greater dental disabilities. Dental disabilities are how dental conditions get in the way of the patient’s life. Disabilities might be an emotional embarrassment, lack of confidence, or simply fear of losing their teeth. Patients like this know they need dentistry but oftentimes they are not ready to receive it. You’ll find that complex care patients do not decline care because they don’t understand what they need, but rather because the dentistry does not fit comfortably into their life at this time. This is the information — how the dentistry fits into their life — that you and your team must uncover to gain the necessary understanding, to become the patient’s advocate, and to help them find the way to get their teeth fixed, either now or later.

Let’s look at two examples:

Debbie, a minimal care patient, and Nancy, the complex care patient who has significant dental needs. Debbie has no physical discomfort. She walks into your practice unaware that she has a cracked tooth and mild periodontal disease. She has dental insurance, credit cards, and CareCredit — so the dentistry will fit comfortably into her budget. Her dentistry will generally take two or three appointments. And even though she might be mildly inconvenienced, the dentistry fits relatively easily into her schedule.

Nancy, on the other hand, has significant dental conditions and is very unhappy with her smile, which robs her of her confidence. Nancy’s treatment plan exceeds $10,000 and her dental insurance has minimal impact, so treatment doesn’t fit comfortably into her budget. And because her dentistry requires many appointments, treatment doesn’t fit comfortably within her schedule either. Now, if you treat Debbie and Nancy the same when they arrive at your practice for their first appointment, you’re going to have problems. Why? Because the complex care patient and the minimal care patient respond differently in the case acceptance process.

Minimal care patients respond well to educationally based processes. Why? Because oftentimes the minimal care patient is not aware of their conditions. Consequently, when you make them aware of their conditions and they know treatment is relatively inexpensive and not time-consuming, minimal care patients are far more ready for care. In contrast, complex care patients are often aware of their condition.

Nancy knows exactly why she’s unhappy with her teeth. She doesn’t need more information. What she needs is your understanding.

So, the question is, what do you need to understand about Nancy?

You need to understand that there are significant things going on in Nancy’s life right now that will impact her ability to receive care.

Now that you understand there are two very different types of patients, your team needs to be able to identify them when they call for that initial appointment. Once you’re able to identify if the caller is a minimal care or complex care patient, you can more appropriately schedule them in a way that makes it easy for them to move forward with care.

Part two of this series will release next week. Make sure you’re on our list so you’ll be the first to know when our training tips are live.

In my case presentation program, Making it Easy for Patient’s to Say “Yes!”, we train on communication and confidently presenting treatment through dialogue. The intention of the advocacy dialogue is to reassure that patient that we’ll look to find a way to fit our treatment recommendations into their life circumstances. This dialogue opens the conversation about whether some, all or none of your treatment recommendations will fit into their lives now.

When you’re ready to train your team on presenting treatment and patient dialogue, I can help.