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6 reasons dental patients say no to treatment, and how you can change that

Jan. 15, 2023
There are many reasons patients decline recommended treatment—some that can be easily remedied.
Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management

Editor's note: Sally McKenzie was a powerful voice in the dental industry until her passing in 2020. We're sharing this article in the spirit of having her high-quality and insightful work live on and continue inspiring readers. Read more about her legacy in the dental profession from Chris Salierno, DDS.

It’s a familiar scenario: you recommend treatment, you think a patient is ready to move forward with that treatment, and then they decline the treatment. That means not only are your patients not getting the treatment they need, your practice also isn’t meeting its full potential—and it’s costing you money.

I’m not talking about a little money, either. If your case acceptance rate falls below the 85% benchmark, you’re losing thousands of dollars every year.

While I know this is frustrating, there are changes you can make to increase case acceptance, boost your production numbers, and grow your bottom line. But first you need to understand why patients aren’t moving forward with treatment. Here are six common reasons patients say no, and what you can do to make it easier for them to say yes.

1. They don’t feel a connection

If you want to create loyal patients who trust your treatment recommendations, you have to connect with them and earn their trust. Focusing on the dentistry simply isn’t enough. Patients want to know you care about them and have their best interest at heart. If they don’t think you do, not only will they not go forward with recommended treatment, they’ll start looking for a new practice to call their dental home.

Instead of rushing in and out of treatment rooms, slow down and take the time to get to know patients. Ask them about their families and jobs. Talk with them about their oral health goals and address their concerns. Simply put, make them feel comfortable. Not only will this go a long way in improving your case acceptance rates, it will lead to loyal patients who are happy to refer you to family and friends.

You might also be interested in:

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These patients are hurting your dental practice

2. They don’t understand the value of dentistry

You can’t just tell patients they need periodontal therapy or a crown and expect them to blindly follow your recommendation. You have to educate them about their condition, and make sure they understand the possible consequences of ignoring it.

Use intraoral cameras and hand mirrors to show them exactly what’s going on in their mouths. Show them educational videos and give them brochures about the procedure, then answer any questions they have. Start looking at every patient interaction as an opportunity to educate, and you’ll soon see your case acceptance numbers rise.

3. You don’t listen

Patients say no for many reasons, but you shouldn’t take no as a final answer. Find out why they said no. Address any misconceptions, and tailor your education to address their specific concerns.

4. You don’t have a treatment coordinator

As much as you might want to, you don’t have time to present cases to every patient, and spending five or 10 minutes going over treatment chairside simply isn’t enough. Consider hiring a treatment coordinator to present treatment for every producer in the practice. This person, trained in sales, should go over treatment details with patients, from how long treatment will take to post-op care, and address any questions or concerns they may have. Presentations should be held in a private, comfortable environment, and should never be rushed.

5. You don't follow up

Most patients don’t accept treatment right away. They want to take the time to think about their options and talk everything over with their spouse. But chances are patients aren’t going to call to schedule treatment on their own. You have to follow up.

Train your treatment coordinator to schedule follow-up calls with patients before they leave. If that isn’t possible, your coordinator should follow up with patients in two days, armed with a script and important details from the initial presentation. During these calls, your treatment coordinator should address any lingering concerns and talk with patients about the importance of accepting treatment and maintaining their oral health.

6. You don’t offer financing

Even when patients understand the value of treatment, sometimes they just can’t afford it. That’s why it’s so important to offer third party financing from a company like CareCredit. This gives patients the option to make low monthly payments, which will make them more likely to say “yes” to more expensive procedures.

To create a profitable, thriving dental practice, you have to focus on improving case acceptance. Make these changes and you’ll notice your case acceptance rates begin to rise—and that will show in your bottom line.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2015 and updated regularly

About the Author

Sally McKenzie | CEO of McKenzie Management

Sally McKenzie was CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. For over 30 years, Sally immersed herself in techniques, systems, and methods to improve the performance of dental practices. She was a dental auxiliary, dental business administrator, and dental educator for several years prior to founding McKenzie Management in 1980.

Read more about her legacy in the dental profession from Chris Salierno, DDS.