Communicating with your patient

Dentistry, as with much in this world, is all about communication. Successful periodontal treatment outcomes are about patients taking on board jointly developed treatment plans and then following our instructions for home care.

Practice success and profit is determined by communication. Selling is the art of telling your patients the benefits they will derive from the care you have to offer.

Litigation often doesn’t follow on from a mistake. It often follows as a result the patient not liking you, which can be prompted by a failure of communication.

Communication is, in the main, about body language with tone of voice and words taking less of a role. I am sure that pleasant and relaxed surroundings must have an impact on how patients take on board information and how much they like coming to your practice. When it comes to the telephone, tone of voice becomes the dominant issue – smile before you pick up.

Communication with the patient or customer will happen at different times in different situations but, for the sake of this article, we will focus on periodontal health instruction.

As dentists and hygienists we all often talk too much (and I include myself in this, although I am working hard to improve) and also, in order to offer value for money, we give far too much information in one go. Generally speaking, most people can retain about seven pieces of information at one time and I am sure for many a lot less. So don’t overload the patient at the first visit and focus on the important stuff.

If the patient simply hears the message they will retain only 20% of the information, 50% if the message is visual and 70% if the instructor gets them to repeat the message back. So actively involve the patient. Another good idea is for the patient to use their own toothbrush in their mouth (and not on a plastic model). They then create ownership of the situation.

Quick Tips

• Get the patient to relax – they will listen more

• Keep the information limited, focused and simple

• Deliver the information in different ways, including both verbally and visually

• Repeat and review the information on a number of different occasions

• Actively involve the patient in your discussions

• Attempt at all costs to like your patients and get them to like you

• Create the time for your patient

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