Engaging Your Patients in Health Goals Conversations

Another six months have gone by and today, your patient,  Mr. Brown is coming in for his routine cleaning and examination.  Mr. Brown made it clear a few years ago that he was not interested in replacing any missing teeth or improving his smile with some aesthetics.  So it is business as usual and you will say “Hi”, and “how is everything?” You may wonder if he is interested in his mouth but you don’t start the conversation.

Take a moment and consider engaging this patient about his oral health goals.  Ask, “How do you feel about your smile?”; “Have you ever thought about brightening your smile by replacing the yellowed composites with new bonding or veneers?”

Sometimes people want to make a change but just don’t know how it will look or how they will feel about it.  You could introduce and educate the patient about new products/materials that have improved since their existing work was completed.

Be prepared to ask open ended questions instead of questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”.

Encourage your patients to talk by taking the time to listen without interruptions.

Open-ended questions start with who, what, when, why, where or how.  Some people can talk quite a long time and that is why it is important to use another question to direct the conversation.  Asking too many questions can make a person feel uncomfortable and can kill the genuine exchange you are trying to achieve. Balancing questions with statements and adding humor when necessary are the skills of a good “chair side manner.”  During this exchange make sure not to answer your own questions. Some people will think before answering or take a pause. This should not be a time where you rush them through their thoughts.

Asking “why” questions can be good at establishing a motive for behavior but at times is intrusive and aggressive.  People often feel obligated to answer a “why” questions because the alternative is “I’d rather not say’” which is often more uncomfortable than answering the question.   For instance, if the patient is not wearing their bruxism appliance the obvious would be to say, “Jack, why aren’t you wearing your bruxism appliance?” Perhaps a better open ended question would be “Jack, how is the bruxism appliance working for you?”  “What have you noticed about it that has benefited you?”

Taking the time to listen and then thanking the patients for their continued loyalty will boost their confidence in you and the practice.  



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