Our ability to learn and develop relies on the question we ask and the answers we receive, so of course, they will play a huge role in our patient education. But, as a dental professional, have you ever stopped to consider the question behind the question? How about those common questions you hear every day? They may seem like simple questions you have heard so many times now that your answers are actually starting to sound rehearsed, but it really is all about how they are interpreted. Some of these seemingly simple questions could be masking more complex and vulnerable questions. It is up to you to interpret them properly in order to provide the solution that benefits both your patient and your practice.
But you can’t read our minds, right? In a supernatural sense, no you can’t, but with the help of communication techniques and effective listening strategies, you might just be able to get inside our heads and give us the answers we need as opposed to the ones you have rehearsed.
In this post, I am going to help you do just that by encouraging you to take off your dental professional’s cap once again and to walk in my shoes while I share with you my experience as a nervous and anxious patient. Through my experience of asking common questions, I will let you in on what I was actually asking, and the answers that would have been the most beneficial to me and my dental professional.
Is it going to hurt?
This was not the first question I asked when I climbed into the dentist’s chair for the first time, but it was the most significant. The problem with this question is the answer. Unless you advertise in pain-free dentistry, the answer is always going to be yes. My former dentist stayed silent when I brought the question up because he knew the answer was yes, too.
But “is it going to hurt” was me asking for reassurance, not that it wouldn’t hurt, but that my dentist would do everything in his power to make sure I was relaxed and comfortable throughout the procedure. I wanted my dentist to tell me that I was in good hands and that he sincerely cared about how I felt and I wasn’t just a dollar amount. If my former dentist had been sincere and honest and empathetic, if he had listened to what I was asking and showed empathy in his answer, I would have come back. Keep in mind to always practice empathy and honesty and you will foster trust in your patients, encouraging them to return to you again and again.
Should I be put under?
This, of course, connects to the “is it going to hurt question?” I asked this question to my oral surgeon and he provided a strong and honest answer, letting me know that he, of course, could perform the surgery by freezing only, but he did also suggest how much easier it would be for me if I chose anesthesia.
This is less about the question hiding beneath and more about my dental professional’s expertise. I was relying on him to help me make a very difficult decision and his answer was more than adequate. Here is what all dental professionals should know going forward: alternatives are important.
How important? For some patients, it means the difference between staying and leaving. I’m sure you’ve noticed that some of your patients have a high pain tolerance and so do not need or expect to have an alternative solution to freezing. But others, like me, experience an extremely low tolerance. These patients should be properly accommodated. If you do not have the option of oral or IV sedation, I do recommend making them available. A good friend of mine with a very low tolerance for pain left her dental professional strictly because the office did not provide this crucial option.
How much is it going to cost?
Getting into the interpretation of this particular question is difficult because it’s different for everyone, but in my experience with this question, I wasn’t asking “how much is it going to cost?” Again, I was asking for reassurance.
What I really wanted to know was what kind of options was my dentist offering and was the procedure really worth my money? My dentist didn’t talk to me but instead sent me up to the front desk to retrieve that information from the receptionist. He missed the underlying question because he wasn’t listening to me. He wasn’t empathizing with me or even treating me as a valuable patient at all. I really do recommend answering this question when it is asked and have the answer on hand, not rehearsed from a script, but definitely prepared for someone like me. Be honest and understanding and, when discussing a certain treatment, focus on the health and well-being of the patient first, emphasizing the importance of the treatment you’re recommending.
Then turn your patient’s attention to the options you can offer to ease the financial burden as much as possible. At this point, if you believe the receptionist or the office manager at the front desk is able to provide more information, instead of just telling to go to the front desk, walk them over to it.
In an attempt to tackle the questions within the questions, it is important to utilize effective communication and listening skills. Don’t just listen to the words in the question; listen to the tone, the inflection, and the voice. This will help you to better interpret those questions that might seem common but really aren’t. Please keep in mind that rehearsed answers are the worst answers. A rehearsed answer communicates only apathy and lack of interest. Throw away the script. You don’t need it. If anything, it is hindering your success. Remember that each question your patients ask is another opportunity for you to get to know and form a connection with them.
At this point, please take some time to scroll back through your memories to a moment when you asked one or all three of these questions, what kind of answers were you provided? Did the answers you received make you feel better or worse about the procedure and the dental professional? What other questions have you been asked by your patients and how did you interpret them? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d be happy to hear about your experiences.