Tuesday Tip from Pride Institute: Third time's a charm, so the research shows

Patients really do try to listen to your case presentation, but research shows that most people don't retain information until they hear it three times. Here's what you can do to help patients hear things three times.

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In an interesting article in the New York Times, I read about a review of a study conducted by two marketing and behavioral science professors at Georgetown University and University of California, Los Angeles. Their work concluded that three events going the same way three times in a row will lead people to believe they’re observing a streak when applied to such incidents as coin tosses, basketball shots, and stock index movements.

The research concludes that consumer skepticism crosses a threshold at three claims and counters the previously held principle, the “set size effect,” which said that the more positive descriptors crammed into a message, the better.

In the study subjects were given messages that had as few as one or as many as six reasons to buy in. For example, a hypothetical friend told a subject about John, an old high school flame. The hypothetical friend said, “He’s intelligent, kind, funny, and cute.” At that fourth word, “cute,” the subject’s eyebrows went up and skepticism increased. Given four reasons, respondents were more likely to tell the friend he or she was “kidding about how great John is.” With three they were likely to conclude, “John is a real catch.”

Could we learn from this how to better communicate with patients and influence them more effectively toward case acceptance? We’ve all experienced patients who we’ve spent time with explaining the need for a crown. We think they’ve “got it,” only to hear them later at the front desk asking, “I need a crown?”

This reinforces what we at Pride Institute have been teaching for years – patients need to hear things three times before they sink in. Let’s call this the “believability quotient” or the “magic three.”

1) At diagnosis – Describe the needs to the patient during the initial exam/consultation or the periodic exam.
2) During the debriefing process – Repeat treatment needs and encourage questions.
3) At the handoff to the front desk team member at the front desk – In the presence of the patient, repeat for the third time the treatment needed.

While three times might be perceived as TMI (too much influence) and cause patients to raise their eyebrows with skepticism and think “enough already,” less than the three times might result in patient “amnesia.”

So you are now armed with scientific evidence that the “three-peat” is the perfect dose to assure patients “get it.”

The source of this study is “When Three Charms but Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings,” by Kurt A. Carlson of Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, and Suzanne B. Shu of the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Tuesday Tips from Pride Institute are provided weekly on our Facebook page as well as in this column in DentistryIQ. To ensure you don’t miss any of Pride Institute’s proven methods to take your practice to the next level, visit prideinstitute.com, and like them on Facebook.

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