Famous last words

June 1, 2001
"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist ..." - General John Sedgwick, Union commander who died in 1864, killed by a sniper's bullet during the Civil War.

Paul Homoly, DDS

"Knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
"Lettuce."
"Lettuce who?"
"Lettuce make our patients right!"

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist ..." - General John Sedgwick, Union commander who died in 1864, killed by a sniper's bullet during the Civil War.

Can you imagine the blinking expressions and bitter surprise experienced by the general's officers as his horse galloped away, leaving the general's face first in the dust?

Famous last words in dentistry can leave doctors in the dust - the dust from a patient galloping out the door! If we're not careful, our words can be like sniper's bullets to relationships.

Make people wrong

The fastest way to kill off a relationship is to disapprove of how a patient feels and/or to make patients wrong. Here are a few examples of famous last words that dentists and team members utter just before they bite the dust.

"You shouldn't feel like that ..."

"Don't be silly ..."

"I've decided that you should ..."

"Quit worrying; you're going to be just fine ..."

"Your tooth is not my problem ..."

"No problem ..."

"You're not the expert here ..."

"This isn't expensive; it's an investment ..."

"You've neglected your teeth ..."

"I can't understand why you ..."

The list goes on. Compound this list with the infinite variations of judgmental tone of voice and negative body language, with the high stress/threatening environment of the dental office, and you've got all the ammunition for patients not to accept your treatment and/or to leave your practice.

Make people right

Making people right works like magic when building relationships. Making people right does not mean agreeing with everything they say. Making them right is acknowledging - not necessarily agreeing with - what they're saying. Making people right demonstrates empathy and gives them a reason to listen and go along with your point of view.

For example, your patient tells you that he hasn't been to the dentist in 10 years and your examination reveals moderate periodontal and occlusal disease. It's really tempting to make this guy wrong and tell him, "Well, if you'd make it to the dentist regularly, you wouldn't have these problems." Famous last words!

You can make him right and get your message through by saying, "I can understand why you have stayed away from the dentist. You have some areas in your mouth that I'm sure would be really sore if someone worked on them. The good news is that dentistry has advanced greatly since you were last in. There are many good ways we can help you."

Another example is when your patient tells you, "I can't believe that my insurance isn't going to pay for all my dentistry. I've been paying into it for six years, and now you're saying they only pay $1,000 a year?"

It's easy to make the patient wrong and say, "The relationship you have with your insurance company is not part of our relationship. The coverage you have is determined by the quality of the policy purchased by your employer. We're a fee-for-service practice, and we don't believe that insurance is in our best interests. So, we do not accept it." Famous last words once again!

You can make patients right by saying, "We have many patients who are disappointed in their insurance. I wish we could change it. Let's see what your insurer will pay, and then I'm sure we can provide you with the dentistry you need and stay within your budget."

Find ways to make patients right and they'll find reasons to go along with your recommendations. Making patients wrong might give you a fleeting sense of superiority, but it will hurt you in the long run. It's like shooting yourself in the foot ... and then admiring your marksmanship.

Dr. Homoly coaches dental teams to implement reconstructive dentistry through his continuing-education workshops, private consulting, and seminars. This column is an excerpt from his new book, Isn't It Wonderful When Patients Say Yes? - Case Acceptance for Complete Dentistry. Dr. Homoly can be reached at (704) 342-4900 or via e-mail at [email protected]. Visit his Web site at www.paulhomoly.com.

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