[ Read Part One ]
[ Read Part Two ]
An Inside Look at the National Survey of Public Perceptions of Dentistry
The Crown Council was given the opportunity to help fund a significant study meant to identify public perceptions of dental health and the role dentists play in providing dental health services. We jumped on the opportunity because we felt it was time to see what was really on people’s minds when it comes to the dentist.
What we have attempted to do is translate the scientific data into a practical, easy plan for your practice in the form of understandable survey findings and some associated solid suggestions for your practice. Some of the results will not surprise you. Others may expand your vision of what you should be doing. Yet other results may be a little unsettling.
Survey Finding #3
“Don’t tell me to floss!”
That’s right. While patients say they want more information about periodontal disease, as we saw in Survey Finding #2, they also say they don’t want to be told to floss.
Does that make any sense? Perhaps on the surface it may not, but when you take two factors into consideration, it makes all the sense in the world.
First, when patients are asked to rank in order of priority the most important oral health tasks, it may not surprise you to know that there is a strong correlation between the ease of the task and how high it is ranked. The easier it is, the higher it is on the list. That may be a way to relieve some guilt, but the fact remains, if it is harder to do, we avoid doing it, even to the point of trying to convince ourselves that it just isn’t that important.
Second, when you consider another survey finding, a pattern and a clear message starts to emerge. Only 56% of survey respondents said that taking x-rays was important. Of all the dental procedures listed, x-rays ranked at the bottom of the list in importance to patients. So here is the interesting dichotomy: While patients want you to address their whole health, they are not particularly interested in having you do a procedure that is essential for diagnosis and they don’t want to talk about having to do something that will keep them healthy! While that may seem like a conflicting message, here is the lesson to be learned and what we need to be doing differently with patients.
It’s no secret that we are living in a new age of consumer education. Because of the internet and the media, consumers/patients are becoming more and more educated. Information on just about any subject is available to just about anyone with a simple click of a few keys on the computer. Information has made us empowered and free. We are no longer bound by what any one expert or authority tells us. We can look it up, compare, and find out for ourselves. We have become more skeptical, questioning, and informed.
As a result, we are less likely to take anyone’s word for anything.
We are less willing to be told what to do without understanding the why to do. We want to know why.
For too many years in dentistry, we have gotten away with just telling patients what to do or what we are going to do without question. Today patients are telling us that they are not willing to just follow along without being told why. You want to take x-rays? You better tell me why! You want me to floss? You better give me some good reasons why. As a patient, I am saying in my mind, “help me understand the connection between what you are telling me to do and what I really want.” If I want you to address the connection between oral health and my overall health as 78% of the survey respondents said they wanted you to do, then I, as the dental professional, need to explain why flossing is essential to your overall health. As the patient, I want to know why.
Consider this simple example of the verbal skills that may be required today when discussing the importance of flossing. Instead of telling a patient to floss, you might say, “Mr. Jones, as we have discussed, science is now telling us about the connection between gum disease and heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. So it is critical that you do everything you can to keep your gums healthy. When bacteria that cause gum disease get down below your gum line, they thrive because bacteria grow rapidly where there is no air or oxygen. Every time you floss, it not only removes some of bacteria, but it helps oxygen get down below the gum line which can help kill some of that dangerous bacteria. That is why it is so important that you floss every day. Does that make sense?”
How about the why’s of x-rays, since patients don’t seem to understand their importance?
“Mr. Jones, have you ever broken a bone? (Yes). When you went to the doctor, after he or she did the visual exam, were x-rays taken? Why do they do that? (To see where the break is and make sure they treat it properly.) Just as the physician can’t see that break below the skin, there are many things we can’t see below the skin in your mouth – your gums or things we can’t see between the teeth without the help of an x-ray. Sometimes the things the x-rays show us can affect your overall health and strength of your teeth. That’s why x- rays are such an essential part of your overall wellbeing and the health of your mouth. Does that make sense?”
Now, does every patient need an explanation like that? Not necessarily. You have to read your patient. The best “why” explanations are in the form of stories and every day examples that the patient can relate to what is going on in his or her mouth. More and more, patients want us to make the connection between their mouth and their health. Then they want us to not just tell them what to do, but why they need to do it.
Just remember what your patients are saying in their mind to you… “Just tell me why!”
Additional findings from the Crown Council-funded survey on what dental patients really want will be excerpted on this blog. They are described in full in the FREE e-book, What Patients Really Want, by Steven J. Anderson, available here.
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