By default, patients see dentists as being just repair people. Unless that perception is changed, patients will allow us to take care of their chief complaints but not much else. That kills case acceptance and income.
We must encourage patients to see us as trusted friends. Case acceptance, patient satisfaction, referral of new patients and problem prevention depend on this. We must start this process the first time we meet a new patient. This only requires ten minutes of designated, non-clinical time at the first meeting.
The essential element of the critical ten minutes is showing the patient that we're genuinely interested in them as people worthy of respect. This is very different from casual conversation about the weather, traffic or sports. It requires asking a series of personal, open-ended questions with each new question being prompted by the patient's answers. Focused, active listening is essential.
Initially patients assume that we're just being polite. But after three or four questions, it's like a light goes on and the patient realizes that we really are interested in them as people. You'll immediately know when this happens. It's obvious. This is pivotal moment in the doctor/patient relationship and all good things flow from that moment.
Example # 1:
Dentist- "Mary, do you mind if I ask where you're from?"
Patient- "I'm from Haiti."
Dentist- "Were you there during the earthquake?"
Patient- "Yes, it was terrible."
Dentist- "Was your family OK? How is Haiti doing now?"
Patient- "Thank you for asking, doctor. Yes, but..."
Example # 2:
Dentist- "John, do you mind if I ask you what kind of work you do?"
Patient- "I'm a physician."
Dentist- "What kind of doc are you? Where do you work?"
Patient- "I work in the emergency department at the University Hospital"
Dentist- "Is it fun? How do you manage the stress?"
Patient- "I really like it but...