Author: Cotton Hawes, CEO
You can’t go wrong with wisdom as well-accepted as the Golden Rule, can you?
In one case, yes. When we “treated others as we would want to be treated” at our dental group, it turned out that wasn’t necessarily what our patients wanted.
The Golden Rule was essentially the guiding light for our business. We started our group with exactly what patients wanted and what most dental teams didn’t want. Sixteen years ago, we opened our first office running 12 hours a day, 7 days a week accepting walk-ins and now have 33 locations in 3 states with the same model. We knew that patients wanted convenient access-to-care but didn’t know if doctors and staff would accept something other than an 8-5 weekday schedule.
But that heritage of thinking about the patient first and ourselves second didn’t generate the Google reviews and customer service scores that we expected. So, a few months ago, we combed through our patient feedback, surveyed consumers who weren’t our patients, and made a list of how patients didn’t want to be treated. We’re going after the top five dislikes, that we call “hassles,” with everything we’ve got.
Patients have told us that one of the biggest hassles in dentistry is “pressure.” Patients feel pressured when they’re asked to do too much, too soon. We know that dental teams have the best intentions to heal patients and save them time but, sometimes, there is a perception problem. Patients can see positive encouragement to get healthy quickly as a rush for them to decide. That’s why our teams are now letting patients think about their treatment plan for a couple of minutes alone in the operatory before asking them to decide.
Patients tell us that another dental hassle is “upselling.” Patients feel as if they’re being upsold when they’re offered treatment that they didn’t expect. This is another perception problem. The fact is, dental teams have a duty to tell patients about all of their oral health issues. To handle both sides of this situation, our teams are focusing on the pain that brought the patient in and asking for the patient’s permission to talk about any other issues.
According to patients, dentistry can sometimes be confusing. The temptation for a dental professional is to speak in a clinical language which is natural to them and lay out the major options that they’d want to hear if roles were reversed. But patients said that made it harder to understand and choose their treatment. To avoid this, our teams are explaining everything as simply as possible. We skip the technical terms and give “headline versions” of the choices.
Dental professionals and their staff can find themselves in another dilemma when they’re “educating” patients about oral health. From their perspective, dental teams are arming patients with the information they need to become and remain healthy. But, to patients, this can sometimes seem as if they’re being lectured. Now that they’re aware of this, of our teams explain oral health as if they’re talking to someone who’s in a hurry – quickly and clearly. Then they invite the patient to ask any questions and let them decide how much more info they want.
The most surprising hassle that patients have told us about is “judgment.” Dental professionals are in healthcare to help people and, even on their most difficult days, none that I’ve met would knowingly make someone feel judged about the condition of their mouth. But when patients walk into a dental office, they feel vulnerable and therefore sensitive to tiny signals or cues from the dental team. Our teams now take extra care of patient’s feelings by being very positive about the patient’s decision to seek our help. In other words, the message we’re sending is that the only thing that matters to us is that the patient is in our office, wants to get out of pain, and it’s our good fortune to have such an important job.
The proof that our team members’ hearts were in the right place all along is that they’ve embraced this new approach. They’ve made a quick pivot because they want to make it easy for their patients to get the treatment they need and exactly how their patients want it. We’ve listened and learned and our team is looking at the situation through their patients’ eyes rather than their own so that they can reach the goal which is providing hassle-free dentistry.
So, we’ve replaced the Golden Rule with a more flexible approach. We’ll continue asking questions, listening and adjusting to what our patients want, and won’t make the mistake again of assuming that there’s one right answer for everyone – much less that we know it.
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