4 steps to improved true treatment acceptance

September 17, 2015

When dental teams begin tracking total treatment presented to patients and the amount of treatment accepted by patients, they often discover their true treatment acceptance is much lower than they thought. And they uncover opportunity to help their practice and patients get healthier.

There are several critical metrics most dental teams are not tracking that can make a significant difference to the health of the practice and their patients. These “invisible numbers” or blind spots are relatively easy to track and can provide incredible insight and direction for the practice. One of the most important invisible numbers is true treatment acceptance. 

When dental teams begin tracking total treatment presented to patients and the amount of treatment accepted by patients, they often discover their true treatment acceptance is much lower than they thought. And they uncover opportunity to help their practice and patients get healthier.

A reasonable goal for true treatment acceptance might be 60 to 67 percent. In my experience, one-third of patients accept recommended treatment no matter what, one-third won’t, and the remaining third is in the middle. It’s this middle group that represents production opportunity. To help them make the decision to accept needed care, there are four critical steps.

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Step 1: Link care to the patient’s personal motivator

People buy what they value. So, for patients to want to accept recommended care, you need to effectively communicate the value of the dentistry. The best way to communicate the value is to link care to the patient’s personal motivator. First, find out what that motivator is-why they came to see you, what they like about their smile, what they don’t like about their smile, their life goal in terms of their oral health and in some cases, overall health. Then, link the benefits of care to their motivator. “Mrs. Jones, you told me you don’t want to end up with missing teeth like your father. During your examination, I noticed that you have periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss, which I know you want to avoid. So, here’s what we are recommending…”

Related reading: Why patient education is crucial to case acceptance

Step 2: Establish a healthy mouth baseline

As a team, establish your healthy mouth baseline, which is the minimum health level you believe every patient deserves. This becomes your practice’s guiding philosophy and all treatment recommendations are designed to meet, at a minimum, this baseline. With a healthy mouth baseline, you no longer ask patients what’s hurting or bothering them, but instead proactively recommend all dentistry needed for them to achieve this baseline.

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Step 3: Present treatment as a solution to a problem

No one wants to accept treatment to solve a problem they don’t believe they have. The problem must be clearly communicated along with consequences of non-action. The use of visuals, such as an intraoral camera, so patients can “see” the problem, is extremely helpful. Ask questions that verify the patient “owns” the problem, such as “Mrs. Jones, do you see the crack in this tooth?  We’re concerned it has affected the integrity of the tooth and will lead to a painful, broken tooth if we don’t address it immediately. Do you agree?” 

Then the solution (treatment) is introduced to the patient, tying care to their personal motivator (step one) and to your healthy mouth baseline (step two).

Related reading: How to increase case acceptance with patient education systems

Step 4: Fit treatment into the patient’s lifestyle

If steps one through three are completed successfully, patients at step four want to get the dentistry done, but may need help overcoming barriers to care. One barrier to care is scheduling. We can all agree people are pretty busy these days, so accommodating working adults with early evening or weekend appointments can often make the difference between a “yes” and a “not right now.”  Another barrier is paying for care when there’s an out-of-pocket investment. Today, dental benefits may be limited or nonexistent for many patients. Offering a variety of payment options is ideal. And, letting all patients know all payment options upfront can make it easier for the patient to accept care. A lot of patients do not feel comfortable asking for financing, so if you offer third-party financing but leave it in “your back pocket” to offer as a last resort, the patient may end up delaying, declining or accepting less than needed care.

If you’re ready to start tracking true treatment acceptance, you may need to create a manual system if the function is not available in your practice management software. Many practices I know use a simple Excel sheet. And remember, even though there’s about a third of patients who will probably decline care, using the four steps I’ve outlined will help keep more of your patients and your practice healthy.

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About the author

Gary Kadi has been a devoted advocate for the dental community, their families, and their patients for over 20 years. A speaker, author, and researcher, Gary re-energizes practices and helps dentists implement systems and raise their profit margins. Gary has authored several books, the first of which, Million Dollar Dentistry, has been distributed in 37 countries with over 80,000 copies in print. He most recently wrote a book for Periodontists, Stop! The Bleeding: The Seven Steps to Scaling Your Perio Practice. After years of studying the reoccurring challenges facing dentists, he created NextLevel Practice to implement the Complete Health Dentistry™ business model. NextLevel Practice is an Inc. 500, 5000 company. Gary is a Leader in Dental Consulting by Dentistry Today, a member of The Academy of Dental Management Consultants, and an honored Board Member of Alliance for Oral Health Across Borders.