Trojan Blog

10 Ways To Make Tomorrow a Better Day – By Laura Jamison

10 Ways To Make Tomorrow a Better Day

My favorite movie character is Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind. The Civil War has brought ruin to this Southern belle who grew up in a privileged, pre-Civil War era household; and Scarlett attempts over and over to rebuild. But even this innovative, clever, tough-as-nails heroine, confronted with one final problem to solve, says at the end of the movie: “Oh I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day!”

Have you ever felt this way? I have.

All dentists benefit from a fresh perspective. A new approach. If you are a new dentist, you begin with a commitment to repeating what others have done to be successful. If you are a dentist who has been in practice and wishing for a fresher point of view, it is empowering that you can start each day with a new approach to solving a current problem. Gone With the Wind is about a bygone era. Today’s economic downturn can be frustrating for those who are still thinking we will return to the mid-2000’s any time soon.

In today’s era, my clients tell me they struggle with patients who say “No” to treatment plans. Whether you are a new dentist or simply wish to think like a new dentist, consider these solutions to improve the number of times you hear “YES!” when presenting your treatment plans:

1. Begin with telephone training for your appointment coordinator.

She makes an all-important first impression and can begin planting seeds for your services. Your new patient prospect has chosen you. There is a reason. Begin looking for the patient’s motivation in the first phone conversation.

2. Make a positive impression by branding yourself.

Congruency with your marketing materials creates a sense of professionalism that reassures your patient with a sense of security about your skill level. Wow your new patient by sending a welcome packet with directions to the office or refer him to your website during the initial phone call.

3. Dress the part. Business team members are far more impressive (and confident) when dressed appropriately.

Crisp uniforms with name badges for the clinical team and professional clothing for the doctor speak volumes. Shoes count too. People do judge the book by its cover.

4. Schedule the new patient to see the doctor first. Doctor, be the first to meet and greet your patient.

Be the one to ask questions. Do not have the patient relive an emotional dental experience twice by having your assistant or hygienist ask questions about the reason he is sitting in your chair. This one commitment speaks volumes in favor of your practice. You care enough to spend your valuable time with this new patient.

5. Have the assistant document important personal notes and hot buttons in the chart.

Hot buttons are motivators and concerns. In order to engage your patients emotionally, you must know why they are there in the first place.

6. Be a good listener. Repeat back what you are hearing and clarify.

Be curious. Ask open-ended questions. Questions work well that start with why, where, what, how, or tell me more about …. Your patients want to talk about the most important subjects to them. Self. We are all tuned in to WIIFM. What’s in it for me?

7. Utilize an intra-oral camera or a hand mirror when you are conducting your examination.

By asking the patient what he sees, you make the process participative. We all learn best when an exchange is interactive

8. Determine whether or not treatment can be presented in simple terms.

If it is complicated to present, it is complicated for your patient to process. In that situation, you will always get a better result if you schedule your patient for a consultation visit separate from the new patient exam.

9. Refer to visual aids, photos, and education systems throughout your treatment presentation.

Engage your patient by asking more questions.

10. Perfect your verbal skills by describing benefits to the patient (referring back to the hot button) and how to overcome objections.

Financial options are a must. Overcoming objections is easier when you offer several options that fit the patient’s budget.

As a new dentist, you may find yourself overwhelmed by this list. Use the list as a mechanism to measure your gradual improvement toward a long-term goal. If you are a more experienced dentist, ask your team to consider which area of the practice is most in need of the patient’s attention. Also consider hiring an objective party, such as a consultant, to give you guidance. When consulting with a team, I encourage the doctor and employees to make subtle adjustments to what the patient experiences. Commit to one of the items from this list tomorrow and keep it going. After all, tomorrow is another day!

Laura Jamison, current president of the Academy of Dental Management Consultants, has been a long time contributor to Trojan Today. The first of this month’s Trojan Today Classics, is an article is her contribution to the newsletter from 2011. Laura Jamison is one of dentistry’s most successful and highly respected dental speakers. Contact her via e-mail at jamisonconsulting@verizon.net.

Trojan Today: “Confessions From the Chair” – By Nikki Myers

Confessions from the Chair

It starts, believe it or not, with my nose. A little itch tingles, and I know I can’t just reach up and scratch it. There are hands at my face and little metal tools in my mouth. Faces behind those plastic shield things lean over me; all I can see is my mouth reflected in their masks. Claustrophobia and accompanying panic cause my heart rate to climb and my respiration to increase.

I confess to being a little nervous at the dentist’s office.

I haven’t always had this reaction to the dentist chair. I used to happily jump in the chair to get my cleaning twice a year. But, after a panic attack during a root canal had me gasping for air, I have dreaded the dental chair with sweaty palms and hot flashes. It has been two decades since that first incident. Adopting a few relaxation techniques has helped me get through most routine cleanings, but the anxiety is still there.

This response has nothing to do with the staff or the doctor at the office. I’ve been to three different dentists since that root canal. No one is mean. No one has ever discounted my discomfort. No big monster has ever sprung out from behind the door to sit heavily on my chest to keep me from breathing. There have been, however, some staff who have helped me feel more comfortable. And from them, and my own experience, I can give you some advice about panicky patients

We Need Space

There is not much to be done about the fact that you, dental staff, have to be able to see inside the mouth. Leaning over a patient, to some extent, is inevitable.

Take small breaks when the procedure permits. Backing off for even 30 seconds gives me room to have a deep breath and for fresh air to circulate over my face. This helps keep the feeling of claustrophobia from building.

We Like Comfort

Who doesn’t like comfort? Dental chairs have certainly progressed in patient comfort and staff convenience. Sling-type armrests can be adjusted to better support the upper arm, helping alleviate the pressure gravity puts on the shoulders. I can feel the difference. Without that support, my arms fall back along the chair and there is strain on my shoulders even with my forearms on traditional armrests. If not sling armrests, fold up a towel to place behind the upper arm.

If your patient has any type of lower backaches, having a comfortable tilt to the hips is critical for comfort. Ask your patient if they need to adjust before, and occasionally during, a long procedure. A rolled-up blanket under the knees, or a towel behind the lower back, can take off any uncomfortable pressure.

We May Need to Occupy Our Hands

Bloodless knuckles grip the armrests as I concentrate on keeping my mouth open and my head still. One dental assistant pried my hands off the armrests and put them on a soft, pliable object in my lap. It turned out to be a stuffed bunny. I squeezed and petted the bunny, relaxing my hands and keeping the circulation moving in my fingers and arms. Relaxed hands led to more relaxed arms, which in turned lead to more relaxed shoulders, neck, etc.

We Don’t Like the Chit Chat

Don’t chit chat. Just get it done. Make the visit as swift and easy as possible. When you do need to speak to your patient about treatments or future appointments, slow down. The brain is coping, surviving, which makes processing other things more difficult. I find it easier to set any follow-up appointments, or pay deductibles, before I go to the chair instead of on the way out. Which does your anxious patient prefer?

This doesn’t mean you should never say anything. Check in to be sure we’re okay. Coach us if our breathing is too fast and shallow. The usual running commentary that may be your habit just prolongs what is happening.

We Appreciate the Little Things

If you find yourself with an anxious patient, it is too late to stop the anxiety. The anxiety started long before they walked into your office. It is a response the body has when the brain perceives a possible threat and can’t find a way to avoid it. It may not be rational to you but the anxiety is real. The sights, the sounds, and even the scents in the office can exacerbate the response. Keep the conveniently laid-out instruments covered and out of sight. Keep air flowing through the office to minimize the leftover scents of antiseptics and that horrid burning smell, (What is that anyway?) so they dissipate quickly. Keep notes in your patient records indicating they have a difficult time with dentistry and what steps you took to make them comfortable. Did having something to knead in their hands help? Then have the item ready next time.

Be patient with us. Prepare what you can ahead of time to make us more physically comfortable. Adjust your usual office protocols and procedures where you can to accommodate our flow through your office. An anxious patient who feels safe in your practice will stick with you.

Trojan Today: “Making Anxious Patients Comfortable” – By Laura Hatch

Making Anxious Patients Comfortable

Customer service is important in all industries. In dentistry, there is an added issue with our customers, i.e. the issue of fear.

Because of the added concern or fear that many people have, we must offer an even higher level of customer service.

There are real steps you can take to reduce dental fear. First, recognize it is a true phobia and many patients have it. Many times, you get numb to your surroundings; and your daily patient activities in the office lead to not slowing down and helping your patients work through their reservations.

Recognize fear is real, and identify what patients are afraid of specifically. Not all patients are afraid of the dentist for the same reason. The reasons can vary and may be any one of the following:

• Fear of pain

• Fear of injections

• Feeling of helplessness/loss of control/claustrophobia

• Embarrassment and loss of personal space

• Fear of anesthetic side effects

By speaking directly with the patient and narrowing down the specifics of the fear, you and your team can better address concerns to help a patient deal with the situation. Ask the patient to explain what they don’t like about coming to the dentist, what their past experiences have been, or what triggers their anxiety. Once you determine what they don’t like, you can talk about how your office will help with that issue or how your office might do it differently than they experienced in the past.

Once you know the basis of the patient’s fear, you and your team can step up and act. Show your patient breathing techniques and/or how to count backwards. Many times, other dentists and teams have not shown their patients ways to mitigate the fear. Relaxation techniques will go a long way in helping patients cope, by knowing you are by their side during this nervewracking procedure.

As a team, try to be there for patients in the ways they need. Maybe it’s by exhibiting humor throughout the procedure to keep them in a good mood or holding a hand so they know someone is watching over them. Take the time to get to know your patient’s individual needs to demonstrate a better dental experience.

Always communicate frequently and clearly with the patient. Often, a dental appointment fear stems from fear of the unknown. Keep the patient informed, describe what will happen along the way, and answer any questions, so they will be able to prepare themselves for each step. Tell them what they may feel at a certain point, how long a certain step will take, and how they can let you know if they need a break or feel anything out of the ordinary. Once they get through each step successfully, they will begin to trust that they can get through the entire procedure.

The three things everyone on the team should remember when assisting any patient and especially anxious patients are:

1. Respect the patient

2. Put yourself in the patient’s place

3. Treat the patient like a family member

Anytime you question if something should or could be done for a patient to make the experience better, remind yourself of these three most important aspects of a patient’s visit. Take the time to treat the patient’s fear and anxiety, not just the tooth.

I haven’t always had this reaction to the dentist chair. I used to happily jump in the chair to get my cleaning twice a year. But, after a panic attack during a root canal had me gasping for air, I have dreaded the dental chair with sweaty palms and hot flashes. It has been two decades since that first incident. Adopting a few relaxation techniques has helped me get through most routine cleanings, but the anxiety is still there.

This response has nothing to do with the staff or the doctor at the office. I’ve been to three different dentists since that root canal. No one is mean. No one has ever discounted my discomfort. No big monster has ever sprung out from behind the door to sit heavily on my chest to keep me from breathing. There have been, however, some staff who have helped me feel more comfortable. And from them, and my own experience, I can give you some advice about panicky patients.