Let’s talk about the distinctions between urgency vs. readiness when offering dental care. I’ve seen and heard many dentists emphasize urgency to patients. This is usually followed by prompting them to start their care today…same-day dentistry. In some ways, I like the idea of same-day dentistry. It creates positive momentum towards complete care. It showcases competency and character. It relieves conditions that bother patients.
Where same-day dentistry can backfire is when urgency is emphasized where little or none may genuinely exist.
If untreated conditions and their consequences will have a significant negative impact on patients, then communicating their urgent nature is not only the best option for patients but also a medical/legal/ethical requirement. However, if conditions are chronic and untreated consequences are not urgent but are stated as so, patients will likely sense it.
You’ll lose all credibility and be violating dental ethics.
A good example of this is tooth wear. Imagine your patient has worn down his teeth over the last 40 years. You tell him treatment is urgent, and they need to do something about it today. Do that, and you’ll lose all credibility, you’ll lose a patient, and quite likely read a nasty online review.
A better way of influencing patients to accept treatment for chronic conditions is to discover their readiness for care instead of creating urgency.
Here’s a better three-step process:
First, make patients aware of their conditions.
Asking about their awareness is an excellent way to start. For example, you ask Lisa, did you know you have an abscessed tooth? Asking vs. telling them about their condition invites their response, which often leads to more information about the history of the condition.
Next, state the actual consequences of the condition if it remains untreated in similar patients.
For example, Lisa, Patients of mine often have abscessed teeth they’re not aware of. For many, if it’s not treated, it can lead to toothaches, mouth odor, and tooth loss.
Now third, determine patients’ concern for the consequences and their readiness to avoid them.
For example, Lisa, is this something that concerns you? Is this important for you to avoid? Lisa’s answer to this third question reveals her readiness. If she’s concerned, then work out details of care and financial arrangements. If she’s not concerned, you’ve planted seeds for your treatment recommendations, and when her symptoms worsen, she’ll remember your advice and return for care.
Here’s why this is important. As dentists mature in their clinical skills, the nature of their dentistry evolves. Typically, early in their career’s dentists treat toothaches, fix broken teeth, and do lots of operative dentistry. As they mature and become more skilled, their care evolves towards treating more chronic conditions providing restorative dentistry, implants, prosthetics, and orthodontics.
However, if they’ve built a habit of routinely creating urgency, they’ll discover chronic care restorative patients will be repelled by contrived urgency and won’t accept their treatment recommendations. Consequently, these dentists – who may have decades of practice experience – will not evolve into restorative dentistry. Instead, they’ll remain “stuck” in their early developmental years of treating toothaches and doing fillings.
Dentists like these typically become unhappy practicing dentistry.
My advice…discover patient readiness using the three-step process described and let the patient decide what’s urgent for them.
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