“Why didn’t my previous dentist tell me?!”

Portrait of a young woman with her hand on her mouth

 

If you have ever heard that question from a new patient, you have probably wondered about the best response.  While it depends on the patient, there are some clear things to do and not do.

Here’s some quick tips

Any patient who asks this question is coming from one of two places.

  1. They are questioning you and whether or not to trust you based on the good relationship they had with their previous dentist.
  2. They are surprised and angry at their old dentist.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say it is situation #1.  Trust!

Trust in a “low trust” situation comes from understanding, not just from your clinical expertise.  That is the first trap.  If you immediately respond by justifying your diagnosis or bad-mouthing the other guy, your credibility immediately goes in the dumpster.

 

Instead, listen to what the patient has to say and make sure he or she knows you understand.  It all starts with the questions you ask in response. 

 

For example:

“It sounds like you are surprised at what you found out today.  Tell me about that.”

“This was not the news you were expecting when you came in today.  Am I right?”

“Based on what we looked and discussed together, what concerns you the most?”

As they continue to express their concerns, continue reflecting back what you hear.  For example:

“It sounds like you are concerned about all the potential damage that has been done when you had no idea this was going on?”

“So you would have done something about this had you known.  Am I right?”

 

“You are wondering why this is coming to light now when you were just at your other dentist six months ago.  Is that it?”

 

When you feedback what the patient is trying to communicate to the point that they know you understand, the dynamic changes.  Until you can both agree that you have identified the real concern, there will be no real progress toward a mutual resolution.

So…before you jump in with your well-explained defense of your clinical background and expertise, lend a listening ear.  Make sure you understand the real concern AND make sure the patient knows and feels that you understand him or her.  Then and only then do you have the green light to proceed with a possible solution.

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