Communicating with hygiene patients

March 21, 2012

Every team member has a role to play in making sure hygiene patients feel comfortable and well taken care of. Because the hygiene visit is the appointment patients are most likely to cancel, your words and tone must be consistently professional and compassionate.

Every team member has a role to play in making sure hygiene patients feel comfortable and well taken care of. Because the hygiene visit is the appointment patients are most likely to cancel, your words and tone must be consistently professional and compassionate.

In this article you will learn how to use active listening and benefit plus procedure statements to reassure patients you have heard their fears, frustrations and questions.

How it works
Active listening is a technique that helps patients identify and thereby reduce their emotional concerns. Active listening has a formula but it is not a formulaic response because it is always adapted to the patient. An active listening statement begins with a lead-in such as “It sounds like” or “I’m hearing” or “I sense.” This tells the patient you are trying to paraphrase.

The second part of active listening identifies the emotion the patient is experiencing. You may have to intuit this emotion unless a patient directly says what he or she feels. Common feelings patients express include disappointment, confusion, apprehension, frustration, overwhelm, stress or even positive emotions such as anticipation or excitement.

The third component of active listening is restating the content of the patient’s message. This should be a brief summarization. A sample active listening statement is, “I hear how frustrated you are that you need to get scaling and root planing again.” The last part of active listening is sometimes the most difficult. It is simply silence. After we active listen to a patient we need to pause and wait for his or her response. The formula for active listening looks like this: Lead-in plus emotion plus content. Pause.

Once you have engaged in active listening with the patient, the next step is to use a benefit plus procedure statement. Benefit statements influence the patient to want to do the suggested next step. Benefit statements consist of two parts:

The benefit to the patient based on his or her motivators and concerns. This tells the patient “what’s in it for me.”

The procedure or the next step that is necessary to obtain the benefit. A benefit plus procedure statement ALWAYS begins with the benefit first. This grabs the patient’s attention because it matches the patient’s motivator or concern. The benefit plus procedure statement connects the patient’s “wants” to the patient’s “needs.” Benefit plus procedure statements usually begin with “Because you said” or “So that you” or “In order for you.”

Using the situation we named earlier, the communication would sound like this:  
(Active listening) “I hear how frustrated you are that you need to get scaling and root planing again.”  

(Benefit plus procedure) “So that you don’t face this situation in the future, let’s spend some time talking about how you can care for your gums at home.”

Here are some additional examples of how to respond to patients using these communication tools.

Example one
Nancy says to the appointment coordinator: “I know I have to come in for that cleaning, but I just don’t have much time. I know your hygienist is just doing her job but she spends so much time telling me how to brush and floss. I really just want to get in an out as quickly as possible. Can you get her to hurry up?”

Active listening: “It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated about how long the home care instructions take.”

Benefit plus procedure: “So that you feel relaxed during your appointment and also get the care you need, I will communicate your concerns to the hygienist.”

Example two
Mona says: “Oh I’d hate to come back just to hear more bad news about my teeth. Can’t you just tell it to me all now and then we can see if my insurance will cover it?”

Active listening: “It sounds like you’re feeling discouraged about possibly hearing bad news.”

Benefit plus procedure: “So that you feel totally comfortable about your course of treatment and we can answer all your questions about what insurance will cover, I recommend that we set aside time so that we have plenty of time to talk.”

Example three
Tom says: “Well I guess I could come back here four times a year but I only have a limited amount I can spend on my insurance plan and I’d much rather spend it on getting my old silver fillings taken out. I can’t believe how bad they look when I talk.”

Active listening: “It sounds like you’re pretty eager to replace your silver fillings.”

Benefit plus procedure: “Because you will want any new fillings to be placed on a solid foundation, let’s get you scheduled with hygiene first and then we’ll talk about getting you scheduled to see the doctor.”

It works
As you can see, active listening and benefit plus procedure statements are foundational communication tools that can be used in almost any situation. They communicate that you are listening and that your message is tailored to your hygiene patient’s unique concern.