Its Not What You Say, Its How You Say It

Nov. 1, 1996
The best-selling book I have ever written is titled, Scripts For Effective Patient Communication. I am not telling you this for you to run out and buy this book; I am trying to make a point.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

The best-selling book I have ever written is titled, Scripts For Effective Patient Communication. I am not telling you this for you to run out and buy this book; I am trying to make a point.

The longer I am involved in dental consulting, the more I realize the importance of verbal skills. I always had understood that verbal skills were essential to success, but never dreamed how essential.

Communication Is Key

Whether it is a dental practice or a Fortune 500 company, communication is a key element. Not only is it important in how the dentist and staff speak to each other, it is the critical element in patient case-acceptance.

I have just spent the last year researching case acceptance for a new book that I am writing on the subject. In this review, I came to realize that two dentists can diagnose and treatment-plan the same patient and one dentist will have a significantly higher chance of closing the treatment plan than the other. The reason has nothing to do with age, appearance, attitude, etc. It has to do mainly with verbal skills or the way the treatment plan is presented.

There are at least two ways, if not more, to say just about anything. One rule to follow is to always state everything to a patient as a benefit. Patients are not interested in what you think, what you want them to do, what you feel is right or even what you feel is ethical. There is a big difference between saying "I think you should do this" and "When this case is complete, you will feel better about yourself than you have in years."

A Picture Is Not Worth a Thousand Words

The introduction of intraoral cameras in the 1980s led to an explosive new technology. By all rights, it is interesting that so many have been sold. Imagine if you were a conservative dentist in the 1980s and I came to you and said, "I have a $30,000 piece of equipment that does not diagnose anything or treat anything, but shows pictures. Would you like one?" The answer is almost like Starbuck`s coffee. If I came to you and said, "I am going to take a 50-cent cup of coffee, sell it for $2, burn it and call it gourmet, make you wait in line to get it, make you serve yourself, make you clean up afterward and open these all over the world. Would you like to invest in my new idea?" In either case, your response probably would be, "Are you out of your mind!"

The fact is that intraoral cameras have sold fairly well over the last 10 years. Why? Because dentists are desperate for better ways to communicate. Unfortunately, many intraoral cameras sit unused in offices, because the practices have not figured out how to communicate better with this piece of equipment.

It has become well understood in the advertising world that people are highly over-communicated. Every message competes with advertisements from IBM, AT&T, etc. Americans can only handle so much and between cable television, the Internet, one million words in the Sunday New York Times, etc., they are a little bit overloaded, to say the least.

What this comes down to is that the best information today is simple and direct. Dentists believed that a picture from an intraoral camera was worth a thousand words. Show the patient the picture and treatment is sold. Show the patient the picture and trust, relationship, personal interest, are all accelerated while the patient forgets all about fees and says "yes" to anything.

How untrue! A picture is not and never was worth a thousand words. You always need the verbal skills or words to go with the picture.

The main point is that, without the words, you have very little chance of success. An intraoral camera in the hands of a poor communicator results in a poor communicator. An intraoral camera in the hands of a good communicator results in a "great" communicator.

What`s the Point?

The point is that to be successful, you must master verbal skills. I could claim verbal skills are part of customer service. I could say it is essential for communication. I could make the statement that you need to communicate better with your staff and that I never have consulted for an office that did not have some communication problems. One might point out that communication increases case acceptance. An argument could be made that good verbal skills increase patient satisfaction. We probably could even say that excellent communication and verbal skills lead to referrals.

So, which one of the above is true? All of them! There is no part of the office that is not pervaded by a need for enhanced verbal skills and the most successful dentists in the world are those with the highest level of verbal skills.

Should you have an intraoral camera? Certainly-if you have the verbal skills to go with it.

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.