The question you NEED to be asking patients

Asking the right question can be a seemingly simple - yet strategically powerful - way to earn more out of every patient appointment.

It’s quiz time! In thinking about your chairside manner, when would you say is the ideal time to chat with a patient?

A) During treatment, when instruments are in the patient’s mouth.

B) One on one, after the examination is over and the patient is sitting upright.

C) Chat with patients? I don’t do that. 

If your answer is B, you are correct! And if you answered A or C, don’t be discouraged. Your reasons for going to dental school didn’t likely include your love of small talk and self-promotion, but the reality is that patient conversations can have a real impact on your practice’s bottom line. Open lines of communication with patients build loyalty and trust - and can even increase production.

Whether you’re working on a new case, treating an uncomfortable patient or simply facing your own social anxieties, chairside conversations can sometimes feel awkward, so here is one foolproof question to ask that is as simple as it is powerful:

“If there were one thing you could change about your smile, what would it be?”

It’s a straightforward yet open-ended question - and one that’s easy enough to ask.  That’s exactly what makes it so impactful. Having a perfect smile is something that weighs heavily on the minds of patients. Nearly 99 percent of people think their smile is their most important social asset1, a fact that is only compounded with every selfie posted on social media. 

However, another study revealed that more than a third of Americans are unhappy with their smile2 . So, as it turns out, this seemingly simple question can potentially unlock a wealth of knowledge into the mindset and motivations of a patient, benefitting every dentist in these following ways.

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Demonstrate your team’s commitment to each patient outcome

The thought of asking an open-ended question might be intimidating at first. There’s no telling what a patient might respond with, and for a dentist who isn’t supremely confident in his or her communication skills, that can be quite daunting. However, the upside is huge; asking a question like this can lead the patient to reveal so much more valuable information than a simple yes or no answer will ever provide.

The good news is that this responsibility doesn’t have to fall solely on the dentist’s shoulders. The other clinical members of the dental team also need to have the verbal skills to engage with patients in this manner, and relying on your team is particularly smart if they happen to have more outgoing personalities than yours. 

Asking a question like this also demonstrates to patients that you and your team are completely invested in their outcomes. Instead of rushing them out of the chair when treatment is done, you’re demonstrating how your team is willing to take the time to go the extra mile, and that is exactly what builds long-term loyalty in patients.

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Unlock patients’ internal motivations 

Dental anxieties can cause even normally talkative patients to clam up when they’re in the chair. Asking an open-ended question is a great way to help alleviate fears and draw patients out of their proverbial shells, while also providing you with a rich set of insights into each patient’s mindset. 

When you ask patients a question about what they’d like to change about their smile, they’ll likely respond with something they want, like straighter teeth or a whiter smile, as opposed to something they need. Asking this simple question gives you the opportunity to frame and align your treatment recommendations with their aesthetically-driven desires.

Create more productive patient conversations

Ultimately, by helping patients connect the dots between the dental work you feel they need and the cosmetic outcomes you know will motivate them, you’re more likely to earn their buy-in and get them to say “yes” to your treatment plan. And as you’re able to have this conversation - comfortably and openly - with more and more patients, your case acceptance will likely improve and production will inevitably start to rise, all without spending a dime on marketing to new patients. 

So, next time, instead of absentmindedly killing time talking about the weather, try starting the dentist-patient conversation with a question that actually resonates. You may be surprised by the opportunities a simple question creates.