Thursday Troubleshooter: New dentist has poor presentation skills, confuses patients

Team members want to guide young dentist

Aug 15th, 2013

QUESTION: Our passive dentist gives patients so many treatment choices that patients leave the office confused. How can we help our dentist have a bit more confidence in presenting treatment? We know he’s young, but his case acceptance is very poor and we know why. Most of the team members who were with the older, previous owner have 20 or more years of experience, and he has five.

ANSWER FROM DR. TANYA BROWN, founder of The Center for Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry:
Most dentists have good intentions when offering patients multiple treatment options. However, too many choices can backfire by confusing and overwhelming a patient. Unfortunately, those with less experience in dentistry can be challenged by a lack of confidence. Since confidence comes from knowledge, becoming a continual learner and having a strong mentor will help build confidence. Ideally, the senior doctor would mentor the new doctor and dramatically shorten his learning curve.

The good news is that with many experienced team members on board, they can support the new doctor. The more the entire team helps educate patients and co-diagnose, the less the doctor will confuse patients. A proven way to help patients go from "let me think about it" to "let's get started" is to help them become aware of what you see. Patients will never say yes to a solution for a problem they don't know they have. A powerful and effective way to help patients become aware is to take intraoral and/or extraoral photos. Helping patients say yes is truly a team effort. The best teams meet and discuss treatment philosophy and examine photos of what the doctor recommends and why. By synchronizing the entire team, you’ll watch your case acceptance go through the roof!

ANSWER FROM DEBBIE CASTAGNA, Consultant with The Practice Source:
It's good that you want to help your boss make improvements in his treatment presentation process. It's such an important skill, one that combines ability, confidence, and empathy. However, here's the tricky part for a team member. As much as you want this for him, it's a very personal issue. First, he needs to see this as an issue and something he wants to change before it can get better; you can't make him change. He may be passive as you write, but he may think that providing the treatment choices is the right thing, or he likely never learned how to effectively engage a patient in a treatment dialogue.

What you can do is start this sensitive conversation by asking him some questions. "I've noticed that some of our patients are putting off necessary treatment. What are they telling you?” or "Some of our patients seem confused by their treatment options. Shall we talk about this at a staff meeting and discuss how we can get more patient names on the schedule?" or "We'd love to see patients healthier and the practice more productive. Shall we work on the new patient experience as a team?"

Hopefully, this new doctor will be open to working on this system. There are very good training resources to help facilitate this discussion. Good luck to you and your team!

ANSWER FROM LINDA MILES, founder of Speaking Consulting Network:
Case presentation is a very important part of success. How sad it is that the dentist can do the dentistry but doesn’t have the communication or case presentation skills to connect patients with the dentistry they deserve. In rare cases, the dentist may not feel competent enough to do larger cases, but both clinical skills and communication (presentation) skills can be learned. You mentioned confidence, which is a very important component. Confidence comes from repetitive practice and seeing good results.

If I were you, I would meet privately with the young dentist and start the conversation with, “Because I care about you, your patients, and the success of the practice, do I have permission to offer some advice that I feel can help you with case presentation?” Begin with the fact that you notice patients often leave without rescheduling for their restorative, and you think you know why. If your dentist truly wants to improve and knows you have his best interests at heart, he will listen.

If you feel his hesitancy is lack of clinical ability, recommend a hands-on clinical course to improve confidence. If you feel it is a communication issue, recommend that offering too many options confuses patients and therefore results in them “thinking over” treatment. Let your doctor know that until there is a benefit to the buyer, there is no acceptance. Ask him to recommend what he thinks is ideal dentistry. Then have him close the discussion with, “In our office there are two ways we can take care of your recommended treatment. We can bring you back for four to five smaller appointments and do what we call quadrant dentistry, or I can have my assistant reserve a half day of time and we can do 85% of your dentistry in one visit.” By offering two choices, patients typically select one. He (or the treatment coordinator) should outline what can happen if the patient doesn’t proceed with treatment. That part is weak in most practices. When a patient says NO to treatment, it typically means, “I don’t KNOW enough about the benefits to say yes.”

Also, many dentists fear rejection, another reason they are wishy-washy on presentations. Proper skills, confidence, and the art of case presentation are learned skills like any other. Practice, practice, practice makes perfect. After helping this young dentist gain the presentation skills he needs to see results, there is no doubt in my mind he will thank you for your recommendations.

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