Mercury Aligns With Mars

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Do you promote yourself as a holistic or a mercury-free dentist? If you do, then you know that working with this special group of patients brings a unique set of challenges. Recently, I conducted a Team Teleconference with a group who was struggling with how to best serve these patients.

Their goal:  To better understand these patients and learn how to connect with them more successfully. In other words, how can we align with what they want?

Here’s the email they sent me to establish the agenda for our session:

Holistic calls seem to always be the challenging call in our office. The patients are always very detail oriented  and can really throw us off with some of the questions asked. Another problem we face is they take so much time on the phone. I immediately guide them to our holistic website and walk them through our holistic approach when removing Amalgam.
 
There seems to always be a lack of understanding by the patient about what is involved. What I constantly hear from these patients is that they don’t want to have an exam, (don’t want) x rays and just (want to) have their amalgam removed.
 
How can we efficiently handle these calls? How can we handle these conversations to help the patient better understand why the exam and digital X rays are important? How do I get these patients to understand our process without coming off “rude” or “condescending”?

Keep in mind we do offer the consult as a last resort to help convert the call to a future appointment.

Our session brought about some clarity by breaking down the knowns and unknowns.
To start, the team identified some common themes that emerge when working with these patients:

1) They do a lot of personal research on the Internet.
We know that there is an equal amount of incorrect information as there is accurate information out there and each patient will struggle to discern what is fact and what is fiction. When they call your practice, they already have a set of beliefs which may or may not be correct. If what you tell them goes against what they have begun to believe, they will experience some internal conflict.

2) They self-diagnose or have been told by a trusted authority that the mercury in their mouth is;

1) toxic and 2) may be making them sick.
This may or may not be true in their case but you will not change their belief system in a short phone call. It is what it is. Gaining clarity about what they believe is essential and you must use this as the CONTEXT for which you will begin your relationship with them.

3) They are apprehensive and slow to trust.
They may believe you want to perform other procedures that aren’t necessary or will also be harmful. Some individuals may have had negative experiences with health professionals in the past, which leads to their distrust. They have a story and you must take the time to learn what that is.

4) They are health-focused.
Some of these patients place high importance on their diet and their exercise regimen – sometimes to the point of obsession. On the other hand, they may have a multitude of health issues and their life revolves around illness and doctor appointments. This is a part of the story you will uncover and must understand in order to determine IF you can help them, and if so, HOW you will offer to help them.

Because of these issues, they will consume more time than your typical patient, asking questions  and discussing their unique circumstances. There is no way you will change this. If you are going to serve this special group, you MUST be prepared to take the time required to fully understand them.

Also, there is a BIG difference between being efficient, and being effective. Efficiency relates to paper and processes while effectiveness relates to working with people. And effectiveness can’t be measured by whether or not you convert the phone call to an appointment. Not all callers are ones you will want to invite to become your patients. You must know when to cut your losses.

During our session, we broke it down into bite-size pieces to come up with a more effective way to work with these patients when they call.

What do they want?
In quality of life terms, what are these patients hoping you will help them with?

-They want to feel better
-They want peace of mind in knowing the possible toxins are gone

Above anything else, this is what you are providing. The procedure of removing the amalgam fillings will simply be the means by which you will help them get there.

How do they want you to accomplish this?
-They want it done in the least amount of steps necessary
-They want the safest procedure possible
-They want it done for the least amount of money

What don’t they understand?
-They’ve been told or read something they have come to believe that is different from what we tell them.
-Why xrays are necessary.
-Why a thorough exam is both clinically necessary and required by law.

How can you help them get what they want?

Because you don’t know what might be necessary just by talking with them on the phone and the approach requires a thoughtful process considering their unique situation, you will need to provide the context for why this is important in their case. Experiment with the following process and refine it as you get more successful:

1) Find out more about their unique situation – learn their story
When a caller begins the conversation by asking about mercury-free dentistry or removing amalgam, find out why they have an interest. It’s as simple as saying;

“That’s a great question. You’ve called the right place. Tell me a little more about your situation and let’s see how I can help you.”

2) Be quiet, listen, and take notes.
The patient will choose to tell you those things that are most important and can provide you with the foundation for how you will relate what they want with what you offer.

(Sidenote: if the caller begins by telling you every little detail that happened years ago, there are several ways in which to determine whether you must 1) disengage because of red flags, 2)  focus the caller, or 3) offer to refer them to a source of reliable information (like your web site), and call them back at a later time. More on this in a separate article.)

3) Use what you have discovered to provide context to the solutions you recommend.
It doesn’t matter that the protocol you use for each person is the same. You must make what you recommend unique to their particular situation. Remember to:

-refer to them by name
-acknowledge what you have heard
-explain what you recommend based on what you have heard
-get their approval

Here’s an example:

“Barbara, because you mentioned you suspect the mercury in your mouth may be causing some of your health issues, Dr. Holistic will want to learn all about those concerns. She will also want to evaluate what other things might be occurring in your mouth that you would want to be aware of and whether they may be contributing to your problem. I would like to suggest we arrange a time for you to come in to discuss your concerns with Dr. Holistic and she can to determine what diagnostic tests may be appropriate to discover the best way to help you. These may likely include xrays to see what the human eye can’t see going on under the surface. How does that sound?”

(Another sidenote: the subject of xrays and some patient’s reluctance to allow them is another layer of the story. You must peel back this layer in order to understand why this is a problem for them. Don’t assume you know what it’s about. Stay curious and relate to what they are telling you. If you would like to know more about how to address this issue, contact me for a primer on the subject.)

The TAKE HOME MESSAGEs:

Stop telling and start listening.

Use what you learn to create the framework for how you will help them.

Make it personal and unique to their situation.

You can use this same approach with ANY patient. It will help you connect more personally to each caller, begin to develop trust and help you establish a strong relationship from the very beginning.

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Great Expectations

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girl full of dreams      It’s prom season! If you or your children have gone through the prom experience, you know there are a lot of expectations about this life event – your date, the friends you will go with, what you will wear, the transportation to get you there, where you will have dinner beforehand and what afterparty you will attend. If you were like me, my expectations for this magical night were not the same as my reality.

What does this have to do with dentistry? While as teens, we gave a lot of thought to prom and we discussed it at length with our friends and our parents, the expectations our patients have may not be as thought-out or clear.  BUT THEY DO HAVE EXPECTATIONS.

These expectations aren’t tattooed on their forehead – they are internal. And they are formed over a period of time based on previous experiences. Patients rarely leave a practice and move on if they are happy with their dentist. Consider that most people who call your practice are recycled patients who, with the exception of having just moved to the area or their dentist has retired, have likely not had their needs or expectations met.

In a recent Facilitator Study Club teleconference, we discussed this topic and gathered a list of some expectations patients might typically have:

Time: How much time do they think it will take? Do they want an appointment quickly? Do they want to get in and get out quickly or do they want the dentist to spend a lot of time explaining or answering questions?

Conditions and treatment: What do they believe the dentist will find? What do they hope the dentist will find? What do they believe the solution will be?

Pain or discomfort: Do they think it will hurt? Do they expect it not to hurt? Are they hoping to have sedation?

The practice: Do they expect simply the basics or do they anticipate amenities like refreshments, entertainment options, warm blankets and the like? What about clinical standards?

Communication: How do they expect to be treated? Do they have a certain way they wish to be addressed? Are they accustomed to getting a reminder call, or text, or email about their next appointment? Do they like to interact socially or prefer you cut to the chase? Would they prefer more specifics and detail or just the bottom line?

Fees: How much do they believe it will cost? What are they prepared to pay? What role are they thinking insurance will play in their decision-making? How do they expect to pay for their treatment?

I’m sure you can come up with your own extensive list.

If you don’t know what your patient’s expectations are, how will you ever be able to meet, or better yet, exceed them? You would hate to find out what those expectations are by disappointing them. And more important, if your patient’s expectations are unrealistic, you would want to know sooner rather than later so you can prevent misunderstandings before they occur.

Your patients will tell you their expectations if they believe you:

1)    are genuinely interested

2)    will do your best to meet or exceed those expectations

How do you find out? The natural answer is YOU ASK.  But as simple as this sounds, it is often overlooked and not practiced consistently.  We see this play itself out in practices all the time. Team members guess, make things up, base it on assumptions, which are based on previous experiences with patients. Our own personal expectations or preferences may also play into our assumptions.

And because some patients may not be good at expressing their expectations without prompting, it is essential for you to create a curious culture and a framework for finding out. Make time at the onset of the relationship to have a conversation with your patient about what they expect and come to an understanding about what you can and, in some cases, cannot do. Don’t hand them a form to fill out. Instead, you might use a questionnaire as a guide to help you in this process. (If you would like a sample questionnaire, email me). Allocate time in the schedule for these conversations and assign the responsibility to the most behaviorally gifted person on your team. Provide this team member with additional support and training as well as the private space in which to have these conversations with patients.

The fact that you work at understanding your patients in this way sets you apart from most other practices. Through this information-gathering conversation, patients become clearer about what is important to them, you become clearer about how to serve them better and you establish the foundation of a strong relationship with more successful outcomes. Less patients will move on to be recycled again somewhere else.

NEXT TIME: Conveying practice expectations to patients.

Contact me for a copy of our sample questionnaire or to learn more about the Facilitator Study Club,

Practice Perception: From the inside out

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In my previous post, I mentioned a dying bamboo centerpiece we discovered in a restaurant to illustrate the importance of practice perception. My main point was that patients have no way to judge your clinical abilities and the indicators they will use to determine what your practice is about or gauge your expertise are the physical plant, the environment you create and the way you engage your patients in the process. Let’s take it one step further.

Does your physical plant represent your practice mission and is it in alignment with what you offer?

In this and future posts, I want to focus on the physical plant and environment and shed light on those areas you may want to evaluate in your practice.

For example, for new patients, the most important place in your practice is the reception area. This is where the look and feel of the practice is established and should be congruent with the image and messages you are sending into the marketplace. You want this space to set the stage for what the patient can come to expect from you and your team.

Let’s use a simple exercise and approach this process by using the five senses as a guide. If your practice specializes in working with anxious or fearful patients, how would you want your reception area to look, feel, sound, smell and even taste? Visualize in your mind how a person might enter into and experience the environment.You want to project the image of clean, soft, comforting, soothing, uncluttered space.

Sight

The colors would be blues, greens or violets to calm the mind, provide harmony and balance and encourage meditation. Artwork would be minimal and serene – no generic smiling people portraits. The space would be accented with side tables and you wouldn’t find ratty magazines or stand up displays promoting procedures or electric toothbrushes.  Instead, visitors might discover hardcover picture books about photography, travel, animals, or inspirational short stories. Plants would bring in the natural environment and remove the clinical feel. A couple of carefully-placed live flowers might dot the room showing your care and attention.

The lighting would not come from harsh overhead or can lights but instead would be a mixture of floor and table lamps and sconces, providing soft, warm pools of light through the space.

Touch

There would be soft, inviting comfy chairs or loveseats, perhaps with pillows. Massage chairs might be another option. The floor would be carpeted or would have throw rugs, which also softens the sound of footsteps and voices.

Sound

Patients might hear instrumental spa music just loud enough that sounds from the clinical area would be masked. A water feature like a fountain, or a live or virtual aquarium would support the calming environment and add a distraction for anxious patients. No loud phones ringing, no speaker phone, and the volume of voices would be kept low.

Smell

Candles or wall plug-ins would dispense the aroma of lavender, mint or jasmine to aid in calming fearful visitors. No clinical or “staff lunch” smells would be detected.

Taste

A coffee, tea and water station would invite visitors to make themselves at home with an assortment of flavors, including calming camomile.

Can you begin to see and experience this reception area in your mind’s eye? This sets the stage for what they will experience throughout their visit. The physical space and everything you do should be congruent with this.

You may want to gather your staff together and perform this exercise in your own practice.  Paint a picture for your team of the way you would like to treat your patients and how you want your practice to be perceived, based on your specialty and mission. Start with the physical plant. Come up with ways you can support the message.  Walk through the space and evaluate what is in the space now. What doesn’t belong? What would you want to change or how would you improve the features? Then do this same exercise for each area of the practice:

Entrance
Reception
Front desk
Clinical areas
Business office
Treatment consultation room
Other public areas: hallways, bathroom

I would love to see photos of your reception area to see how you welcome patients.

In my next blog posts, I will look at the following equally important areas of perception: Staff, external messages and marketing messages. Be sure to click on the “Follow” button so you will get notification of the next post.

Do Your Patients Deserve an Upgrade?

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First Class Status!

While skimming the Facebook statuses on my Home page, I noticed a colleague’s comment about how excited she was to get an upgrade to First Class on her flight. She went on to say it was the “simple” things in life that make her day.  Another friend commented that it isn’t a “simple” thing – “it is what we deserve but seldom get”.

With first class status, you get priority check-in. You get to board early. The seats are roomy and usually a buttery leather with lumbar support. You are greeted immediately and get to choose from a wide selection of complimentary pre-flight beverages. There’s exceptional meal service (love those warm towels!). Some feature individual media players and personal amenities. You leave the plane feeling refreshed and a little more special than when you entered. Is it likely that my friend will think of this moment the next time she books a flight? Absolutely.

In fact, this JetBlue TV Commercial from 2006 took the concept of First Class and applied it to every passenger across the board.

It made me wonder what patients think when they arrive at a dental practice.  What have they come to expect?  Do they expect an outdated or less than appealing reception area?  Have they come to expect to wait for an extended period of time?  Are they accustomed to being rushed through? Do they expect to be lectured on their home care? Is it their expectation that they will be “hassled” about doing the treatment they’ve put off? Do they expect to hear dental-speak that doesn’t make much sense to them? In other words, do they expect to fly coach class?

What if your patients came to your practice expecting coach but instead, receive first class treatment? Imagine how they might be thinking as they leave the practice? What would it take to provide each and every patient an upgrade – to provide them with what they “deserve but seldom get”?

As you embark on a new year, why not make this a team project?  Each team member could review their own performance and area of responsibility and ask the question; How can I make this a first class experience for my patients?. What additional effort would it require? Think outside the box of dentistry. Think five-star hotel. Think red carpet treatment. Bring the ideas to a group meeting.  Brainstorm as a team and experiment with your ideas.

Make sure your patients feel more special when they leave. After all, you want them to book their next flight with you.