I’ve heard many dentists complain that their patients will not accept implant treatment options because they are too expensive. The three most common phrases I hear are:
“They get sticker shock and just want the bridge/denture.”
“They say no the second I mention the option because they know it’s too expensive.”
“They won’t do it because the insurance company won’t cover it.”
First, sticker shock is a phenomenon that can easily be avoided when a patient is properly prepared. Second, patients will find a way to pay for something if they value it. Third, I have had patients accept implant treatment plans in fee-for-service offices and insurance offices; it really doesn’t make a difference unless you make it an issue.
It took me years to perfect my presentation for comprehensive care to patients. It is a skill that comes naturally to some but can be learned by most. Even if you are comfortable discussing large fees with patients, a little extra polish can only help.
In this lecture series, “Case Presentation for Implants,” I will guide you through my discussions with patients. I will share my successes and failures. By the end, I think you will feel more confident the next time you present an implant treatment plan.
Part One: The Power of Words
I am not the first person to suggest that a single word can make all the difference in how an idea is perceived. In sales and advertising, professionals agonize over every single word because they realize how it can impact the success of the pitch.
Now some of you may be cringing when I compare a case presentation to a “sales pitch.” I cringe along with you. It rattles me to the core. I went into dentistry to provide health care, not sell widgets. But the fact remains that, unfortunately, oral health is viewed by much of the public as optional. How many patients have asked you how long they can put off necessary care for one reason or another, meanwhile they spend their time and money on vacations and expensive toys? If we lived in a world where people valued their oral health as much as we did, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. You could simply tell a patient what they needed and they would do it. But since that is only a fantasy, it becomes our responsibility to find ways to educate patients about their disease and treatment options. Thus, there are lessons we can learn from marketing about how to improve our communication skills.
Here’s an example. Has anyone here ever eaten Patagonian Tooth Fish? It’s actually a delightful fatty fish that many restaurant-goers have been enjoying for years. Never heard of it? Well, you probably know it better as Chilean Sea Bass. You see, there is no such fish as Chilean Sea Bass. It’s a completely made-up name. Why? Because who the heck would order Patagonian Tooth Fish from a menu? If you don’t believe me, Google it.
Many dentists offer their patients Patagonian Tooth Fish when they present a treatment plan. I promise you, you would sell a lot more Chilean Sea Bass if you’d offer it, even though it’s the same darn thing.
Here are some examples of common things we might say and better ways to say the same thing:
Looking at those examples, we can begin to draw some conclusions.
(1) Use “we” instead of “you” when what you’re saying could be construed as a criticism.
(2) Use phrases that start a dialogue rather than closed-ended statements.
(3) Don’t bring up the fees immediately. It may not be a barrier for some people unless you make it sound like one.
(4) If you’re dealing with an insurance company, don’t let that be a deterrent to the best care for your patient.
(5) I always refer to the insurance benefits as “The Company.” They are interested in the bottom line, not our patient’s well-being. The patient is entitled to “benefits” because they (or their employers) pay for it, but “The Company” gets to decide how that money is spent on dentistry because they sometimes kick some of their own money in as well. Feel free to elaborate on “The Company” as a 1984, George Orwellian, Big Brother Is Watching You, dystopia.
In the rest of this series, you will see in my examples how I carefully choose my words to convey concepts in more pleasing terms. In Part Two, we will look at specifically what you should say when you identify that a patient is a candidate for an implant.