Where the rubber dam hits the dental road: Point of reference and the Treatment Decision Matrix

Dec. 20, 2016
In the two previous articles of this series, I shared concepts from our advanced course on treatment planning. 

In the two previous articles of this series, I shared concepts from our advanced course on treatment planning. These concepts have helped practitioners take the uncertainty out of treatment planning through a more refined understanding of patients' personalities, levels of trust, and feelings of urgency. This month we tie it up with a bow and discuss how to proactively remove patients' remaining barriers. We'll cover point of reference as it relates to patients' primary objections for accepting treatment. Point of reference makes patients allies for life who show up, pay bills, and refer friends.

When we start training our teams, the first step is changing what they think they should tell patients. Instead of telling patients what they can offer, truly getting into patients' minds and spirits is a game changer.

Here's step one: Get out of yourself and put yourself in the shoes of your patients. Speak to them as if you were them. Next, locate their starting point. Remove the assumption that all patients come in at the same starting point. If you are speaking in language that is "XYZ" and they are listening from the point of view of "ABC," you've lost them before you even start. But when you start where they are starting, you can help them get where they want to go, help them get what they came for, and more.

The three primary starting points of reference to assess are time, money, and fear.

When you address and defuse the inherent points of reference proactively, patients feel taken care of because you show understanding and empathy. Very often, the opposite is true because most practitioners are desensitized and find it difficult to empathize with patients. It is like New Yorkers who hardly notice the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty because they are so numb to them. Be curious and be in wonderment in your patients' world, and you will earn their trust and knock out the "do-whatever-my-insurance-covers" epidemic.

Don't prejudge patients. Treat new and existing patients freshly each time you connect with them. They are not the same patient and you are not the same practitioner. No one steps into the same river twice: the river is not the same and the person is not the same.

Start with what we call "the blank slate." (This works great and reignites personal and intimate relationships, too.) Go in with an open mind each time you meet a patient. Bringing your curiosity and your listening will lead to your speaking. You will truly be able to care for patients as you would yourself because you are being you and them.

Here is a simple verbal skill for you to practice and use: "Ms. Smith, we want you to know that we take responsibility in listening to you and finding out what is really important to you. We are your advocates for oral and overall health. If we can help you, we will. If we can't, we will do everything we can to refer you to the right place to get the best care possible. We also want you to know that we will always be cost conscious in our recommendations and offer you the option that best fits your lifestyle and the quality you expect. We also do this in a setting where you will feel nothing while you listen to your favorite music, and you will remain in control at all times."

You will have healthier, trusting patients, a thriving practice, and a very balanced lifestyle. Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there's still time to change the dental road you're on.

Thank you for all your e-mails and kind words. Dr. Salierno and I connected at the amazing DE's Principles of Practice Management conference in Chicago, and we are excited to bring you a whole new column in 2017. Look for real case studies that you will immediately relate to and learn solutions from real colleagues. We will also have fun, engaging, video education to support the monthly column.

Editor's note: This article is part three of a three-part series. Find parts one and two online at DentalEconomics.com. Search "Treatment Decision Matrix."

Gary Kadi is CEO of NextLevel Practice. He created NextLevel Practice to implement the Complete Health Dentistry business model, where teams willingly embrace and implement change, patients respect their treatment regimens, patients invest in their health, and doctors enjoy practicing the way they envisioned when they graduated from dental school.