I think back to the day when I first started presenting treatment plans to patients and cringe at the memory of me fumbling over my words as I tried to explain what the patient needed and how much it would cost. I was about 20 years old, still in college, and had zero experience with treatment case presentation. As is with all things new, learning this skill left me feeling deeply uncomfortable, insecure, and wondering if I would ever be rid this uneasy feeling of not doing it the “right” way.
It took me many years (and many mistakes) to gain the confidence to be able to talk to a patient without feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing. I would use every rejection as an opportunity to learn how I could do better the next time I sat down with them. My goal wasn’t to “sell” a treatment case, it was to be able to translate the doctor’s diagnosis to the patient in a way that was feasible to them. I really wanted to educate them on WHY it was imperative to get the work done and what would happen if they didn’t. I also wanted to address their concerns, not just collect their financial obligation. So instead of focusing on “selling”, I focused on listening to our patients and started asking questions about past experiences with previous dentists, anxieties and fears, and most importantly, why they scheduled their appointment. I learned that there was an art to presenting a case and it had everything to do with building a relationship and gaining the patient’s trust.
Below, I share some of the valuable tips and lessons I picked up over the course of my career at Cosmopolitan Dental. Part 1 of the article will address the basic principles of relationship building and part 2 will provide key points that will guide you through the process and make for a seamless presentation!
I would highly recommend that before you start talking money, you make sure that the patient understands WHAT they need and that all their questions/concerns are answered. I found that the line below not only helps me feel more relaxed and comfortable talking to the patient, it also shows the patient that you actually care:
“Hey John! Before I get into the financial part of the conversation, I wanted to make sure that [Dr. Smith] went over everything with you and that you understand the treatment that he is recommending. Is there anything that you need ME to go over and help you understand better? And are there any questions that I can answer for you?”
I found that in most cases, patients had no idea what they needed even though the dentist spent time “explaining” their treatment to them. Oftentimes this happens because they are nervous and end up tuning the doctor out, so it becomes our responsibility to convey the necessity of treatment to our patients. Whoever is presenting the treatment is basically the buffer between the patient and the dentist.
I also found that patients received information about the cost of treatment better and were more opened to accepting it when I let them know they didn’t have to pay for it all at once and that they had options (like Care Credit) when it came down to paying for it. I did this right BEFORE I began discussing what they needed and how much it would cost.
Our body language speaks volumes and can really help set the tone of the presentation! Without even being conscious of it, we are always sending cues about our emotional state through the way we carry ourselves.
So when you’re presenting, I suggest that you sit and be within the patient’s eye level when talking to them. Due to the small size of our practice, the girls present treatment while the patient is in the chair. You can also lean against the wall with your arms clasped in front of you but NEVER crossed. Lean in and nod to affirm they are being heard.
SPEAK in a soft and calm manner, and pronounce your words slowly – don’t rush through the treatment. Take your time – your role is to make the patient comfortable and ease their anxiety about getting the work done. A loud or excited tone may make the patient feel more nervous and elevate their anxiety.
LISTEN to what the patient is saying to you – they’ll let you know the reason for their visit and what really matters to them. If you ask the right questions, you will be able to form an understanding of the type of patient you’re dealing with allowing you to adjust the presentation in a way that aligns with the patient’s ideology.
If you’re ever unsure, asking the patient “what’s your main concern?” is a great way to get to the root of the problem. In some cases, they will just need to vent and tell you how shitty their day was before telling you they have a hard time affording that crown you just mentioned they need to have done ASAP. Don’t be an asshole and interrupt the patient. Rather, respond with phrases like: “I hear you” or “I totally understand”.
This will show empathy and relatability. Stay in control of the conversation by transitioning it back to their treatment. To indicate that you’re finishing up, stand up if you’re seated. If you were standing, you may begin reaching for the keyboard or mouse – this will break the chatter and refocus their attention back to the presentation!