What’s the point?

5 mini-habits later, 5 small practices that will help you to communicate more effectively in the crucial rapport building phase of the interaction with your patients.

So, what’s the point?

You may ask why should I invest time and energy learning communication skills when I could be reading up on exciting new materials, watching YouTube clips on how to prepare veneers or flying inter-state to learn high-end cosmetic procedures from overseas ‘gurus’?

It’s a legitimate question, especially in this time-poor world we live in, and indeed it’s a question I have been asked many times in the past by both students and graduates when I have delivered communication skills courses.

In these significantly more challenging times, especially to be graduating laden with debt and trying to establish a foothold in our very rewarding profession we need to consider;

  • how to attract new patients by word-of-mouth recommendations,
  • how to retain those patients in the long-term,
  • how to build a trusting relationship where your patients will accept your advice (and treatment plans),
  • how to ensure your patients will be inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong,
  • how to minimise stress (by successfully doing the above) in an already high-pressure job in very competitive times.

I have been contemplating all of this recently while listening to some dental podcasts from the USA –http://www.thepassionatedentist.com/ and https://www.howardfarran.com/ . They interview leaders in various fields of dentistry and a recurring theme relates to young Dentists graduating with staggering debts and what they try to do in order to build a patient list and what they really should be doing.

Dr. Saib, ‘the passionate Dentist’, is quite even-keeled and rejects the aggressive sell tactics advocated by some marketers – “if you had $1,000,000 what would you do with your smile?”. He asserts that patients quickly see through the “don’t let them leave the building without saying yes” ethos – these tactics erode trust as patients equate it used car sales – at best they politely say yes and cancel later!

He remembers his early debt-saddled days and his feeling of desperation where, in his own words, he needed the dentistry to be done more than his patients did.

The light-bulb moment was when a mentor told him how this desperation was oozing from his pores – he reflected on this and realised if it was that obvious to his colleague his patients would sense it too.

He resolved to work on his communication skills, building rapport and trust before broaching bigger treatment-plans – he re-built his battered confidence and never looked back.

Dr. Farran is much more brash and up front about the money and the sell and I was about to give up on him when he came around to the same issue.

He said newly graduated Dentists were constantly contacting him and asking him about the wisdom of burying themselves further in debt buying Cerec and Cone Beam machines and/or investing further time and money learning about implants and complex restorative procedures.

His take on this was one of an exasperated but protective mentor figure – the expensive toys or complex training was absolutely the wrong thing they needed to focus on – there needs to be a much greater emphasis on learning fundamental communication skills.

These experienced Dentists and thought leaders were saying, in effect, “if I knew then what I know now” it would be to focus on communication skills first and from there you will be confident and calm, and your patients will see your passion to care for them.

The both double down on how important this is with the rapidly increasing corporatisation of our profession – 30 years ago you picked a location, fitted out a practice and the patients came. No longer!

We cannot compete against corporate entities on economies of scale, marketing budgets or flashy surgery fit-outs and equipment. We must compete on a different front – relationship building and personal service which in turn leads to trust and a deep loyalty that will see you through the ups and downs of trends and economic cycles.

The answer is clear. It is not buying a laser or Cerec machine. It is not traversing the country to learn complex techniques. It is not branding and social media presence.

What will amaze our patients is if we help them feel great about their choices and experience – patients don’t remember what we do or say, they remember how we made them feel.

We must realise that to get to that point of really understanding what a patient wants, which will then increase chances of satisfaction and referrals we must first work to identify and develop the fundamental skills of interpersonal communication.

There is no shortcut.

Rapport, trust and building resilient relationships first.

Practice growth, patient retention, treatment plan acceptance, reduced complaints and less stressful work-life follows.

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