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How To Use The Power Of Emotional Word Pictures

We as dentists strive to provide the best dental care for our patients. One of the key factors in allowing us to provide necessary treatment is communication with our patient. Not only must we be knowledgeable about diagnosis and skillful in physically providing care but we must know how to educate and motivate our patients to accept the treatment we believe to be necessary.

Many times we do a case presentation and get too involved in presenting details, techniques, costs, etc. and don't even come close to having the patient understand the importance of good dental care or its benefits. We may spend hours explaining our diagnosis, treatment options and need for treatment. After all this effort we have usually not really connected and truly communicated with our patients. About two years ago I came across a communication technique used by Dr. Smalley, a relationship counselor. In his video tapes he explains a communication technique that he uses between family members to enhance communication. I believe his technique of using emotional word pictures is a powerful tool that we can use to communicate quickly and accurately with our patients.

What a thrill to feel that you have really communicated your passion for dentistry with your patients. For once they have heard and truly understand what you have told them. They also will remember what you said! This technique is also useful for other communications in your office. You can use it to explain office problems to your staff or your office staff can use the technique when explaining office policy to your patients.

Let me give you some examples to clarify the technique:

How to explain the importance of taking X-rays to the patient that doesn't want them.

"Mrs. Jones, my assistant tells me you don't want us to take X-rays. I would like you to bear with me in a little story that can illustrate why it is very important to you that we do take X-rays on this visit to complete your examination. Imagine for me that your job is that of a school bus driver. You are responsible to pick up and carry 50 grade school pupils to their community school. You have a brand new bus with the latest in safety equipment installed to make you and your pupils trips to and from school as safe and pleasant as possible. When you board the bus for the first day of school your supervisor steps through the door and has a piece of cloth in his hand. The cloth happens to be black. He explains that he requires you to wear this cloth over your eyes as you attempt to make your rounds and pick up your pupils . Mrs. Jones how would that make you feel? Yes, I can understand that feeling well. While I am sure you didn't contemplate that your request for no X-rays would put the two of us in the same position as the children and the bus driver, I hope you now understand why it is so important that we take X-rays. Let me answer any questions about any other concerns you may have about dental X-rays!"

I think the patient will understand and remember your story!

How to explain to staff the importance of collecting fees from patients.

Explain to the staff that you understand how they sometimes feel awkward about asking patients to pay for their visit. Perhaps they won't feel so awkward if they remember this scenario. Just consider how you would feel if at the end of the current pay period I came to work on pay day and told you that I had forgotten to make out the payroll checks and asked if would you just bill me for what I owed you. Then, after you billed me, I would send you $10 per month every month or so. Later that month you knew I was taking a vacation to Disney World for one week. Another good illustration to use is how they feel when they owe someone (family member preferably) money. Ask them how a patient must feel if they owe our practice money. Apply that picture to how firm financial arrangements benefit both us and our patients.

Other stories you may want to develop include:

  1. Not making appointments: You make a date at a fancy eatery and pay in advance then your date doesn't show up.
  2. How an improved smile will make you feel: How you feel when you purchase a new outfit that makes you look really good.
  3. Staff working habits: How they feel when their kids don't really help pick up after themselves, and don't take responsibility for arrangements etc.
  4. Explaining to patients why we are so interested in them doing the right treatment: Have them think about how they feel when their children make a choice that they know will turn out badly.

I am sure you can think of many more applications. You and your staff could spend several staff meetings thinking of problem areas in communication that you could apply these principles. You will finally feel that good communication has been established. Let me know any of your good ideas and I will publish them on these web pages.

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