Improving Patient Communication
A Focus on Interdisciplinary Care and Case Acceptance
Dr. Tyler E. Nelson, DMD, MD and Gretchen Adcock
By putting ourselves in the shoes of our patients, we can easily see the comfort and trust our patients have developed with their general dentists. This rapport is strengthened as patients share life’s milestones when they return every six months for recall visits. From confidence-boosting cosmetic services, implant cases and orthodontic care, to face and mouth reconstruction from traumatic accidents, our patients rely on our expertise. Patients depend on our clinical knowledge as well as our recommendations and relationships with our specialist partners.
We all have experienced it: the patient’s uneasy reaction when they hear that they have to leave our office and work with the specialist. To us it seems simple; we work with our colleagues on a daily basis. We participate within our dental community in educational meetings and events, which builds our trust in the specialist. But, to the patient who we have referred, their feelings are often very different. Immediately, their minds are flooded with thoughts of uncertainty and questions regarding the value of treatment vs. the cost. Our patients’ thoughts focus on the time, pain, and money regarding the procedure they need. The question often becomes, how can we overcome this disparity in attitudes towards our professional network of referrals? How can we proactively focus on interdisciplinary care while maintaining high case acceptance?
Oral surgeon, Dr. Tyler Nelson, DMD, MD, says, “Even though it is a health care setting, the patient is still a ‘consumer.’ When working with a case that requires a combination of expertise from the general dentist and specialist, it is our job to be able to explain and provide understanding on all aspects of treatment. It’s a multi-part process, and they are relying on us to be the experts.” When it comes to how you relate with patients, it’s not how much you know about their teeth that will make them want to schedule treatment. It’s how much you care and try and understand their concerns. Communicating with empathy, through careful word choice, tone of voice, and body language, can be very reassuring and help the patient feel comfortable with their decision.
Dr. Nelson further explains, “I believe a key component to success for case acceptance is providing education to my staff and the offices I work with. Having the same vocabulary and understanding of the procedure, from the general dentist’s office to my office, shows that there is a high level of cooperation amongst our teams. Coordination of their care between offices builds trust and therefore inherently creates value for the patient. If a patient does not understand the value of the proposed treatment, they will not move forward with the process.”
The most successful practices have systems in place that include training in and around patient financing strategies. “Presenting payment plans helps to attribute value to the treatment. Showing the patients a way to afford the deserved treatment reiterates the fact that the treatment has value and will contribute to their overall health,” says Dr. Nelson. We live in a society where the average American doesn’t have the resources to pay for an unexpected expense of around $1,000.2 We also know that about half of Americans say they’ve skipped or put off dental care because of costs.3 These alarming statistics show that patients are looking for a means of affordability. Patients are looking for budget-friendly monthly payment options. By the utilization of patient financing strategies, we can help to facilitate a means of affordability for the everyday patient.
“My recommendation is to focus on patient communication and ascribe value to the services you and the specialists provide. Reinforce the motivation for treatment by utilizing the same interdisciplinary vocabulary amongst offices. Educate yourself, teams, and offices you work with so that you are able to communicate the clinical value in an honest, believable way,” says Dr. Nelson.
1 Based on data on file, applications placed from July 2020 through January 2021. Bankrate.com. https://www.bankrate.com/credit-cards/current-interest-rates/. Accessed February 2021.
2 Bankrate.com. Most Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $1K emergency/ https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/financial-security-0118/. Accessed February 2021.
3 DiJulio B, Kirzinger A, Wu B, and Brodie M., Kaiser Family Foundation Data Note: Americans’ Challenges with Health Care Costs. https://www.kff.org/health-costs/issue-brief/data-note-americans-challenges-health-care-costs/. Dated June 2019. Accessed February 2021.
4 Titan Web Agency. Top 20 Dental Industry Trends in 2021 & What They Mean to Practice Growth. https://titanwebagency.com/blog/dental-industry-trends/. Updated December 2020. Accessed February 2021.