Th 88497

Case presentation Strategies

March 1, 2002

Presenting treatment plans isn't about hard-sell techniques — it's an exchange of value that involves ethics, communication, and mutual respect.

by Elizabeth M. Iverson

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The hard sell. We've all experienced it, and I think I can say with confidence that most everyone is put off by it. Yet, many dental professionals still sell their services as though they are hawking a new car. ("What do I need to do to get you into these veneers today?")

Your patients look to you to suggest treatment options that make sense. So when presenting a case, remember two things:

  • Present treatment suggestions as value-based solutions that make sense to the patient
  • Communicate these suggestions clearly, sincerely, and without any hint of self-interest.

I call this "integrity-based case presentation." Your presentation is integrity-based when it exhibits these values:

  • A motivation to provide patients with a service they will value.
  • Thoroughly understanding patients' wants and needs.
  • Presenting solutions only after patients have verbalized their specific desires.
  • An attitude that sincerely communicates, "I'm not here to sell you something. I'm here to understand and address your unique needs, and to see if I can create value for you."

Dentists must communicate these values clearly and concisely to their patients, in language they can understand. And, to be effective, it's vital that these values be a sincere component of your practice philosophy. Doctors who conceal a manipulative, self-centered attitude simply will not be able to hide their selfish motives. In fact, their self-interest will be as clear to their patients as footprints in freshly fallen snow. The result? In most situations, the case presentation will backfire.

To ensure the long-term success of case presentations, dentists must invest time and energy incorporating these five values into the heart of each member of your practice:

1. Presenting treatment plans is not selling. It's an exchange of value.

2. You must first understand the patients' unique wants and needs before attempting a case presentation.

3. Your ethics and values contribute more to case acceptance than do techniques and strategies.

4. Negotiation is never manipulative; patients must have the desire to work through the challenges involved in implementing the treatment plan.

5. Gaining a commitment isn't just a victory for you; it's a victory for both you and your patient.

Successful case presentations
The following steps, when integrated with the values outlined above, have given hundreds of dentists a cutting edge advantage in both reputation and practice profitability. They are:

  • Relationship
  • Interview
  • Substantiate
  • Commitment

Consider this process a road map to follow as you consult with patients throughout your day. Use it like an instrument to provide feedback that reveals where case presentations could benefit from improvement.

The relationship between you and your patients thrives on communication, which builds trust and credibility. When trust or rapport is weak, any perceived pressure during a case presentation will appear coercive and will have a negative impact upon enrollment.

Professional dental teams know that a solid relationship goes beyond the immediate service being offered. When your patients know that you truly have their best interests in mind, the rest of the process can continue unabated.

People frequently put up defensive psychological barriers when they visit a dental office. But when the relationship is solid, patients are prepared to listen to you openly, without defensiveness. This naturally leads to the next step — the interview.

After spending a reasonable amount of time developing a relationship with a patient, you'll want to transition into the interview process with a permission statement. The purpose of the permission statement is to let the patient know why you are asking certain questions and to get their agreement.

Patients will invest in your treatment plan only when they believe they will benefit. They will invest when they understand exactly how the plan will satisfy their wants or solve their problems. That's why consultative case presenters spend a great deal of time studying their patients' needs. You can encourage your patients to become actively involved in this process by:

  • Asking well-structured questions
  • Offering thought-provoking possibilities
  • Constructively and creatively studying the many facets of the patient's situation

By implementing these ideas in the interview process, you will build patient interest along with a foundation for shared commitment. Remember: Presenting cases isn't selling — it's fulfilling needs.

You can help yourself identify a patient's real needs and wants by asking yourself questions like these:

  • What is the end-result benefit that I can give to my patients?
  • What problems are solved by my services? (periodontal, halitosis, etc.)
  • Why would they want to invest in my treatment?
  • How can I help people enjoy higher recognition and self-esteem?
  • How can I help patients be healthier and more attractive, and keep their natural teeth for a lifetime?

As you and your team learn to meet these patient needs, you will prepare them for the third step in the case-presentation process — substantiating.

Once you have identified a want or a need, the next step is to propose a concrete solution to meet it. Because most people are visual learners, the most effective way I've found to substantiate a treatment plan is by using visual media, such as the CAESY Education System. Visual aids allow your patient to actually see the problem, the implementation of the solution, and the end result.

As you substantiate your treatment benefits, your patients will likely ask questions and present obstacles that must be resolved before they can commit..

In negotiation, we identify the problems or concerns and then work through them to achieve a win-win solution.

Step-by-step negotiation

  • Welcome objections; allow them to fall on a an understanding ear. Identify specific objections and draw out hidden barriers.
  • Discuss possible solutions.
  • Ask your patient an evaluative question such as, "Based on what you've heard so far, how does this sound to you?"

After you substantiate the benefits and features of your services and appropriately answer all of your patient's questions and objections, you are ready to move to the final stage: gaining the patient's commitment.

Asking for a commitment is often the most difficult task that clinicians have to perform. Yet, it should be the easiest! Commitment is simply asking for a decision when you're fairly sure the patient will say "yes." The process of gaining a commitment from the patient involves four steps:

  1. Ask "mini-close" questions that elicit opinions and responses. A "mini-close" is simply a closed-ended question such as, "Mrs. Smith, after looking at this shade guide, if I could make your teeth this white, would you want to go ahead with treatment?"
  2. Listen to the response, and give positive reinforcement.
  3. Restate how the benefits will outweigh the costs.
  4. Resolve the objections.
  5. Ask for a decision.

When you've developed a rapport with your patients and have communicated your treatment plan effectively and sincerely, patients will understand that you have their best interests at heart. Their answer to this final inquiry will likely be a positive one.

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