Monday, May 12, 2014

The Conversation a Dentist Can Have with Fearful Patients

Here is another post, the last in a series, from our friend Jen Butler of Jen Butler Coaching.
It doesn’t matter if patients react from flight or fight mode.  Both types can be easy to work with and does not need to make for a stressful day at the office.
These steps will help you connect, defuse, and gain case acceptance.
  1. Empathy- “Mr. X, you seem uneasy/unnerved. In my experience those patients are often the ones that are the most uncomfortable coming to the dentist.  How are you doing with this?” Here’s where you are going to hear, “I don’t like the dentist.”  Hard to hear as a dental professional and also NOT TRUE. Realize when a patient says, “I hate the dentist,” they aren’t talking about you.  This isn’t personal so why are you having a personal reaction? They don’t know you so how can they not like you?!  They are reflecting back on past experiences with other dentists.  This is fantastic information for you to connect with and turn this patient into a real patient for life.
  2. Validation- “Mr. X, many patients like yourself share with me they don’t like going to the dentist.  I’ve learned over the years that it’s not the dentist they don’t like but the fear of having cavities, needing work, or experiencing pain that they are looking to avoid.  Would that be true for you?”  If yes, “I see.  That’s totally normal and we are here to work with you through this process.”  If no, “Then what about going to the dentist has you so uneasy/unnerved?”  Validation is the most powerful means of connecting with your patients.  It says you get them and you know how to meet their needs.  FYI- that’s priceless, tangible value for a consumer and they are willing to pay for that.
  3. Clarify-  Find out what the patient knows about their previous treatment and diagnoses.  Sometimes you’ll find the patient has thoughts that are not accurate which is feeding into their irrational fear.  You can help them understand and calm their nerves by using Empowering Questions.  Examples:  “What do you know about this treatment?” “What do you remember about the diagnoses?”  “When you recall the conversation, what words pop out most for you?”
  4. Fill in the gaps- When a patient recalls something with misinformation or not as you remember, don’t have an emotional reaction about it.  Chalk it up to basic functions of the brain.  It takes at least 3 times for anyone to retain new information accurately.  You are going to fill in the gaps for patients about treatment, payments, insurance, procedures, processes and systems.  It’s not them.  It’s not you.  It’s ALL OF US.  You can either have those three times be at three different appointments or all three times built into one appointment.  That choice is yours.
  5. Offer solutions minus the fear-  Patients want treatment, even the fearful.  No one innately wants to have bad oral health.  Help them accept treatment by asking this important question, “If we can do something that will [blank] AND it will be pain free, will you do it?”   The power in this question is the AND.  Don’t forget the AND.
  6. Offer a way out- Here is where you talk about the difference between pain and discomfort.  Not much in dentistry really hurts.  There is a lot in dentistry that is uncomfortable.  Laying with your mouth open, people poking at your gums, the notion of someone drilling into your teeth..don’t tell me that doesn’t sound uncomfortable.  It doesn’t cause pain.  Give your patients different words to think about as you proceed, questions to ask themselves during procedures, and a definite way out.  Consider saying, “As we move forward I want you to ask yourself, ‘Is this causing me pain or am I in discomfort?  If it hurts, we will stop and figure out why.  Nothing we are doing today should hurt.  If you are in discomfort we have lots of ways to make you feel more comfortable.  I just need to know the difference.  Regardless, there is always a way out.  You are in control of how fast we go and what we accomplish today.”
For more specific advice on your particular situation, email Jen or call her at (623) 776-6715

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Should a Dentist Do When a Patient Wants to Flee?

Here is another post, the second in a series, from our friend Jen Butler of Jen Butler Coaching.
Patients that come from a place of fight are easier to pinpoint, not easier to work with.  The body has a defense mechanism that when put in dangerous, threatening, or fearful situations gets louder, bigger, and more aggressive to ward off what we perceive as a dangerous predator- yes, meaning you.  I know what you’re thinking, “Patients chose to come in.  I don’t force anyone.”  Doesn’t change the reaction they have.  Remember, this is biology and physiology that is so automatic to our systems we don’t even recognize when we are in these modes.  Patients are not choosing their reaction and they are not making a conscious decision to make your life and the team’s lives miserable.
Patients that have the fight response look and sound like this:
  • Move loudly throughout the office, making sure everyone knows they are there.
  • Direct responses, often being borderline rude or curt (they are on the offensive).
  • Appear grumpy and negative.  I refer to them as prickly- like a porcupine with it’s quills out.
  • Easily jump into conflict and disagreements with anyone in the office. “Mr. X, isn’t this weather wonderful?”  “What’s so wonderful about it.  It’s so sunny out it’s blinding me!”
  • Use sentence enhancers (swearing), exclamations (Darn it, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’, etc) and name calling to deflect anyone from noticing their real feelings.
Patients with the fight response are more challenging to navigate through than their counterparts.  Patients in fight mode can be scary, uncomfortable, and mean.  It’s normal to walk away from an experience with a fight patient and need to decompress and regain your composure.  You might want to go as far as dismissing them from the practice altogether.  These are the kind of patients that take you to the brink of, “This isn’t worth it,” and walk away from everything you’ve created.
There is a way for you to: 1) not be affected by these types of patients; 2) assure them they are in a safe place; 3) have a mutually positive experience.  Start with these steps:
  1. Accept the patient’s reaction.  You won’t be able to change their automatic response.  You can change their experience.  Control what you can and influence the rest.
  2. Don’t come from ego.  This isn’t about you or your team.  The patient didn’t wake up in the morning and purposefully set out to ruin your day.  They are afraid.  If this were a child afraid what reaction would you have?  Why is it different because it’s an adult?Fears are irrational no matter the age.
  3. Slow down and give space.  Being in fight mode comes with intense emotions and high energy.  Don’t fuel the experience further by talking fast, rushing the appointment to get through it, and matching high energy.  Slow the experience down by talking just a bit slower, move with more intention, sit lower than your patient with rounded shoulders and your hands in your lap (just until the fear has dissipated), and hang back just a few extra inches when you can to give some space.  Balance your patients energy, don’t fuel it.
  4. Ask empowering questions to get the patient talking.  The more you know about them and connect, the greater the chance they will be able to share with you what’s really happening.  If they already knew how to tell you they were afraid they would have.  Help them along by asking the right questions.
  5. Be honest, upfront and just ask.  If you find the patient’s fear is really getting the best of them and it is derailing the experience, be honest and just ask, “Mr. X, I’m wondering if you are nervous about being here?”  Wait and listen.
For more specific advice on your particular situation, email Jen or call her at (623) 776-6715