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Fostering patient communication with online patient education

June 10, 2014
Plentiful, honest, and consistent communication with patients is fundamental to the success of a dental practice.
By Ronald Pross, DMD, FAGD

Plentiful, honest, and consistent communication with patients is fundamental to the success of a dental practice. When considering ways to cultivate an environment of open communication with patients, dentists should know there is one tool that can give them a nearly instant boost -- a patient education system. This education starts from the moment a patient enters the waiting room, and ends at home when he or she is talking through a proposed treatment plan with family members.

Educating at every step

Communication and education should occur before, during, and after a patient visits the office, not just in the dental chair. A patient education system, such as the CAESY Patient Education System that my practice has used for more than 10 years, can be a gateway to increasing and fostering patient communication. Exposure to these presentations can begin in the reception area with more general educational videos, and continue during the appointment to explain proposed procedures and treatment options.

In the past, without access to visual presentations, we often discussed treatment options with patients using books, models, X-rays, and complicated dental terms. It was challenging to communicate fully with our patients about the benefits of a treatment, or to accurately visually depict the results of treatment in a way our patients could clearly understand.

With the use of educational presentations throughout a patient's visit, we are now better able to open the line of communication between me or the hygienist and patient. With the third-party validation provided by a good patient education program, patients can hear their diagnosis from an outside source, see it illustrated in an easy-to-understand way, and learn about the possible negative effects of delaying treatment. The presentations visually depict the risks of delaying or avoiding treatment, which has helped our patients see the value of moving forward with proposed treatment options.

The move to acloud-based systemhas further opened communication with our clients. Since we can access the videos from any web-connected device in the office, we can choose where we show the video and deliver the message. We primarily show patients the videos from chairside monitors, but we also have an iPad and monitors on the ceiling. The system is compatible with smartphones, and video links can be emailed to patients so they can view presentations at home. This way they can consult with a spouse or other influential individuals before committing to a treatment.

Increasing case acceptance

When I have to explain a complicated treatment or procedure to a patient, the presentations give the patient a visual representation that can't be beat, with a chairside explanation that helps them understand the issue and participate in codiagnosis. This is one of the most effective ways to move a patient from "I'll think about it" to "Let's schedule today."

With our newest patient education software, we can control the speed of the video animations with a mouse, giving us the power to pause and further explain a specific part of the video where the patient may have more questions. We find this added communication is often the selling point and motivation for patients to consent to proposed treatment.

Since we started using these presentations, our case acceptance rate has increased from approximately 50% to as high as 70%. Patients and hygienists like the visuals, animations, and voice-over the videos provide, as they build a foundation for an in-depth discussion where the patient can ask questions. When patients are able to see a proposed treatment or procedure, their understanding increases and our conversations become more meaningful.

Communicating a more consistent message

Using a patient education system daily ensures patients receive consistent messages. The clear and concise videos cover the basics patients need to know, without overwhelming them with hard-to-understand dental language. When a patient has a specific question the hygienist can show the patient rather than just explaining. This can help someone better understand a procedure and its benefits, and help people feel more comfortable asking questions.

A patient education system can also be integral for post-op care. The day of treatment is often overwhelming for patients, so they may not fully comprehend their post-op instructions. To help alleviate their stress, we check on our patients with post-op calls and send them to our website where they can view post-op treatment instructions. This simple communication ensures patients know they are valued and cared for, and that they fully comprehend important information about how to care for themselves post-procedure.

There's no doubt in my mind that our patient education system has enhanced patient communication in my office. When I show a presentation on a concept such as Invisalign, it's clear that the animation and narration significantly help their understanding. I also often use the presentations for root canals and crown and bridges. After patients view the presentation, we can have a deeper discussion about their remaining questions. Having this high quality content so readily available is helping my patients take action sooner rather than later. In my opinion, the fact that it is so easy to implement, and that it enhances patient communication, should encourage other practices to take action as well.

Ronald Pross, DMD, FAGD, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force Dental Corps and later started North Pointe Dental Associates.He is an alumnus of the L.D. Pankey Dental Institute and can be reached at [email protected].

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