Help patients talk about what they don’t want to talk about

Overcoming the dreaded response of “I’ll think about it” in case presentation is a skill that most dentists and teams wish they possessed. The good news is that they can—with the right communication skills. The first step is gaining an understanding of what is getting in the way of a person saying yes to treatment.

Cathy Jameson, PhD

Overcoming the dreaded response of “I’ll think about it” in case presentation is a skill that most dentists and teams wish they possessed. The good news is that they can—with the right communication skills. The first step is gaining an understanding of what is getting in the way of a person saying yes to treatment.

People are more likely to buy what they want rather than what you tell them they need. One of the biggest unspoken barriers to care is patients’ lack of understanding of how recommended care can help them achieve their own goals for their oral and overall health. Asking questions and listening for patients’ personal motivators (i.e., what they want) will enable you to link recommended care back to what patients value.

If you’ve linked recommended dentistry back to patients’ personal motivators and still hear them say, “I’ll think about it,” there are unspoken barriers to care. The only true way to uncover unspoken barriers is to ask questions and be willing to hear what your patients are trying to tell you.

Instead of accepting your patients’ responses without seeking to understand their perspectives, you can ask questions that will provide insight into why they are not ready to commit to care. Let’s look at some examples.

‘I need time to think it over.’

Let’s say you present treatment and the patient responds with, “I need time to think it over.”

Instead of saying: “Mrs. Jones, I appreciate that you need some time to consider what we have discussed today. If I don’t hear from you in the next couple of weeks, I’ll give you a call.”

Say this: “Mrs. Jones, I appreciate that you need some time to consider what we have discussed today. Tell me, is there something that we may not have covered appropriately that has you uncertain about the care?”

Or this: “Mrs. Jones, we’ve discussed your care and we both agree that this is the type of treatment you’d like to receive. I know you want to go home and think about it. Can you share with me what would prevent you from moving forward with the dentistry you need?”

Sometimes patients are psychologically not ready to commit to care or cost. They truly want to go home and think about it. Or perhaps they wish to discuss their care with family and friends. The goal is to continue the conversation—but when, how, and where the patient prefers.

‘I need to talk it over with my partner.’

Patients often wish to talk things over with trusted confidants. Here’s what to do when you receive this kind of response.

Instead of saying: “Mrs. Jones, I appreciate you need to talk this over with your husband. Just give us a call and let us know if you want to move forward with any of the treatment or payment options we’ve discussed.”

Say this: “Mrs. Jones, I understand you would like to talk this over with your husband. I’ve put together this folder of photographs with the area(s) of concern and a description of the care we are recommending for you to share with him. We’d like permission to call you on Wednesday to see if you have any additional questions or concerns. Is morning or afternoon better for you?”

These examples illustrate a better approach to patient conversations that can help increase case acceptance and help patients get the care they need. Use these examples as starting points for rethinking how you and your team can have successful patient conversations.

Cathy Jameson, PhD, is founder and chief visionary officer of Jameson Management, an international dental consulting firm. An accomplished lecturer, writer, and workshop leader, she has been a speaker for major dental meetings and associations worldwide and has written top-selling books for dentistry. Her wealth of experience in practice management has helped many practices increase their productivity and profitability.

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