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Understanding Your Patient and Their Treatment Plans

This article comes from Contemporary Product Solutions, and is great for seeing the importance of understanding your patient and communicating their treatment plan to them. To find more articles, click here.
Treatment Plans
by Linda Zdanowicz, CDAIt’s All in the Presentation First things first, understand your patient. What do they want? What do they care about? Is it the perception others have of them, or their own comfort and health? What is their understanding of oral health? What can they afford, and what are they willing to spend? How can you show them what they need in a way to make them want it, and how can you show them how to afford it? This all starts in the pre-clinical interview so don’t cut corners here. It’s very tempting to rush the pre-clinical interview if you’re running behind, or if the patient seems like an impatient person who wants to control the way the appointment is going to go. But, don’t do it, take your time and get in there with them. Find a way to get past their defenses and get them to open up. You go first; tell them why you do what you do in your office, before to try to tell them why they should buy it.Once you have a good idea of what is important to your patient and you’ve gathered all your clinical information with the dentist, sit down and discuss the patient’s treatment plan with the dentist. First listen as a dental professional and make sure you understand the rationale for the treatment. Then put yourself in as close to your patient’s frame of mind as you can and ask the questions you think they’d ask. Finally, come up with 3 treatment plans; good, better and best. (Sears used to do that years ago and who really wanted to go home with the good blouse if they could pay a little more and get the best quality one?) Also, find out if there is any treatment the dentist absolutely won’t suggest or provide. Now you’re ready to put your treatment plan presentation together.Print out the following: Review of findings, photos, x-rays, information about conditions or procedures and a copy of the treatment plan and fees. Place it all in a presentation folder that has a slot for the doctor’s business card.moreNext, start by reviewing what they’ve told you about their goals for their oral health. Let them know that you want to help them achieve that and why you think your dentist has prescribed the best treatment plan for them. In other words, go through your best treatment options and let them know exactly why it is the best choice. For instance, if a patient is missing a tooth, you will likely have your good option as precision partial, your better option as fixed bridge and your best option as implant, if they are a good candidate. If they aren’t a candidate for implant, everything moves down a notch and you start with clasp retained partial, then precision, then bridge. Explain the pros and cons of each treatment honestly. Don’t fall into an annoying salesman technique of bashing the good option in favor of the best, just give them the facts and help them if they have questions or misconceptions.As it becomes time to decide, you may realize that you’ve now led your patient to truly desire the best option, but they don’t see how they can afford it. This is where you must know what options your practice will offer in terms of financing. For patients who you have very little experience with, who don’t have a reliable reference behind them, or who just seem like a credit risk for you to take on, I’d suggest a dental lending program. If you offer in- house financing, work with them on that. I love it when I can offer them a payment plan that takes them through a phased treatment plan. In other words, we may be working with them to maximize their insurance so we may be phasing their treatment over 2-3 years. If I can break up their payments to span that time period, everyone wins and the patient gets the best treatment available to them without undue financial hardship. If you are creative and you have a reasonable patient, the finances can be worked out to the benefit of the dentist and the patient equally.Once the treatment is accepted and the financial plan is achieved, it’s time to schedule the treatment. I don’t like to schedule everything immediately, even though it feels great to get it on the books. That is because life happens and if you have 10 appointments scheduled, chances are patient will get home and notice that they have a hair appointment that can never be moved. (funny how hair appointments trump dental appointments every time, but to be honest, mine do, too.). Now you have to start moving all the subsequent appointments, too, and that’s a pain. I like to set up the first phase, or quadrant, and then midway through those appointments, set up the next.
It’s important if you are phasing treatment over the span of a few years, to make a note to call the patient to set up the next phase in the last quarter of the year preceding. So, if a patient is going to start phase two in 2012, I’m going to have a note on the schedule in November, 2011 to call and set it up.Finally, as the patient care coordinator, you are the liaison for the practice and patient and you need to be available to the patient to answer any questions they may have. Make sure they know that. Make sure they know that you are available to speak to their spouse, adult children, or whomever they release you to give information to (make sure you have a signed information release waiver).Presenting treatment is interesting, sometimes challenging, and almost always rewarding. Helping people understand their oral health needs and then assisting them in making the possibilities and desires a reality is a fulfilling way to spend the day.

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