By Cathy Jameson, Ph.D., founder of Jameson Management
It’s something dental teams hear patients say almost every day. But the question is, what do patients really mean when they say, “I’ll think about it”? And, how can dental teams best respond? According to Patients’ Decision Path to Purchase Dental Care Study*, even though patients believe dentistry is an absolute necessity, they take an average of 69.8 days to decide to move forward with care when there’s an out-of-pocket investment required. Often, when patients leave the practice without committing to needed dentistry, it’s because there is an unspoken barrier to care.
Unspoken Barrier: Patients’ Lack of Understanding
One of the biggest unspoken barriers is patients’ lack of understanding how recommended care is going to help them achieve their own goals for their oral and overall health. Remember, patients are more likely to buy what they want rather than what you tell them they need. To find out what patients want, you simply need to ask:
“When it comes to the health of your teeth and the appearance of your smile, what is important to you?”
Usually the patient’s goal for their oral health will fall within these categories: appearance, comfort, function and keeping teeth for life. The treatment plan should be developed to help them achieve their goal and communicated in a way that focuses on what the patient wants, not the treatment he or she needs.
“Mrs. Smith, you shared with me that you want to keep your teeth healthy and have them for the rest of your life. Is this still what you want? The doctor has put together a plan that will help you achieve this goal.”
Unspoken Barriers: Cost and Time
If you’ve effectively tied the dental plan to the patient’s goals, they’ve agreed that they want the care, yet you still hear them say, “I’ll think about it,” there is another barrier to be identified and addressed that usually centers on cost or time. First, acknowledge that the patient should make sure they have all the information they need to make a decision. Then ask questions to uncover any additional barriers.
“Mrs. Smith, I’m glad you’re committed to the treatment the dentist is recommending. I want to make sure I’ve been as helpful as possible and given you all the information you need. Tell me, is there a question or concern you still have? Please share with me what is preventing you from moving forward with the care you want?”
If at this point the patient shares concerns with cost or convenience, it’s time to provide them with solutions, not options. Patients don’t want to choose from a menu of options; they want advice. They want to know you are the expert and can help them. They want solutions — solutions that help them get the care they want without impacting their lifestyle.
“Mrs. Smith, thank you for sharing with me your busy schedule. Working full time with three young kids at home will definitely keep you on your toes. I think I can help, though. First, the treatment the dentist has recommended will only require one visit. And we have set aside a few appointments on Saturday for patients just like you. If we can make sure we don’t impact your work day or take too much of your weekend time with the kids, would a Saturday appointment work for you?”
And patients want solutions that help them get the care they want and less stress on their budget.
“Mrs. Smith, I did notice you looked uncomfortable when I explained that your dental benefits contribute to the total cost, but you still had an out-of-pocket investment of about $1,200. I’m glad you shared with me your hesitation. I know not all people have that kind of money handy. That’s why we accept the CareCredit health care credit card. Many of our patients like this payment solution because they can get the care they want and pay monthly with special financing. May I tell you more about this solution?”
Keep the Conversation Going
Sometimes patients are just not ready to commit to care or cost. They truly want to go home and think about it and possibly discuss care with family and friends. Now is the time to let them know that you will be ready whenever they are.
“Mrs. Smith, I understand you want to take the time to think about what the dentist has recommended. I’ve put together some information here for you — photographs of the areas of concern and a description of the care we are recommending — should you want to review it again or discuss it with family. Is it OK if I give you a call on Wednesday to answer any additional questions you may have? Our team is committed to your oral health, and when you’re ready, we’ll be ready to get you healthy so you can keep your teeth for life.”
*Path to Purchase Research, Dental Industry, conducted for Synchrony Financial by Rothstein Tauber Inc., September 2014.
Dr. Cathy Jameson is founder 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.
This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony Financial and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in “What to Say When Patients Say, ‘I’ll think about it’” are the author’s.