Motivating Patients

Without question, value is the key to fee-for-service dentistry and case acceptance. When you think about it, fee-for-service dentistry is based on nothing else but having patients accept treatment. Ultimately, the purpose of all management and all marketing is to have patients say "yes" to treatment and have a continual flow of high-quality, new patients.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

Without question, value is the key to fee-for-service dentistry and case acceptance. When you think about it, fee-for-service dentistry is based on nothing else but having patients accept treatment. Ultimately, the purpose of all management and all marketing is to have patients say "yes" to treatment and have a continual flow of high-quality, new patients.

Our management and marketing programs have evolved since 1985, and it is becoming increasingly evident that the key element of case acceptance is building value. Unfortunately, most dentists believe that value is built by providing high levels of technical information to patients and then allowing them to make choices. Not only is this not true, it ultimately leads to low levels of case acceptance.

In my seminars, I have been explaining to audiences the definition of selling: Selling = Education + Motivation.

Let`s start with education. If there is an area in which we as a profession excel, it is in patient education. We teach them about plaque. We teach them about restorative preparations. We explain that fractures can lead to root canals. We tell them about anaerobic bacteria and periodontal disease. We even talk about titanium.

We are excellent educators, and I do believe that all patients should be fully informed about their diagnosis and treatment options. The problem is that this is where most of our selling ends and does not fulfill the above formula.

The second component of selling is motivation. Most of us do not understand motivation, how it works, and what it really is. In reality, motivation is the ability to excite someone about taking a certain course of action.

Most people are not self-motivated and I believe that most motivation comes from an external source. I also believe that it only lasts for about a week. As proof, think about people you know who have joined a health club, started a diet or changed their lifestyle. If they didn`t quickly turn those activities into lifetime habits, they were waning after a period of about one week. If all the people who joined health clubs actually went, they would be so oversubscribed that no one could ever get in. The truth is that less than 10 percent of those who join ever show up after the first week or month.

The point of this explanation is that it is our obligation, as doctors, to motivate patients. Every time a patient declines treatment, the patient is ultimately the loser. We lose production and profit. The patient loses quality of life and health. Unfortunately, most of us do not recognize that we are the ones who must provide the motivation, since most motivation is external.

Building Value

The key element, and one which I will talk more about in future columns, is building value for the patient. Education and motivation will work if the patient believes there is value in what is being offered. The ironic factor is that it probably is easier to present treatment for cosmetic dentistry than the rest of our services. Yet, most practices still are embroiled in the basic bill, drill and fill dentistry.

Since we do not understand motivation and building value, we also have missed the point in terms of elective/want services. In other words, nobody needs cosmetic or implant dentistry to survive. However, it is amazing how many patients want it, and the change in life for most people who undergo either of these treatment modalities is spectacular.

One of the areas we have to address is the separation of need services vs. want services. In the world of want services, motivation plays an even larger role in building value.

Ultimately, practices that are able to build value and present treatment effectively will be those that will maintain the fee-for-service component with outstanding productivity and profitability. This truly is a skill that is learned and includes many factors, including enthusiasm, communication, marketing to attract the proper patients, and management of those patients in the practice in a step-by-step, scripted manner.

In future columns I will address this in more detail, including areas such as: The Levin Group five-step selling system, charts and forms that work to close treatment rather than keep records, and building relationships with patients in 10 minutes or less.

In the meantime, work to provide every patient with both education and a motivational component in each of your treatment-plan presentations.

Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at (410) 486-1089.

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