Patients want to know…

27 August, 2012 / Infocus

Making assumptions about your patients could result in them missing out on a preferable treatment. Ashley Latter explains why it’s best to ensure you outline all the options available

Recently I have been coaching many NHS dentists who are looking to improve their sales of private treatment. I believe this is becoming increasingly important as NHS funding is not increasing and, with the ever-increasing costs of running a practice, many dentists are seeking out other forms of income.

I have been thinking of writing an article on this topic for a while now, but today, as I watched the news on TV and listened to the radio about the complaints from patients, supposedly around 500,000 of them, whose major beef is that they feel they have insufficient information from the dentists about their choice of treatment options, regarding their entitlement to receive particular dental treatments on the NHS, it has prompted me to write this article. In this two-part article, I am going to share some simple communication strategies that will help you in this instance. These strategies and tips can also help you when you are explaining all forms of treatment.

As I listened to both sides of the discussions, to me it is all about communication between the patient and the dentist, or possibly the lack of it.

When I am coaching dentists, particular NHS dentists on my two-day Ethical Sales & Communication Programme, they always ask me for help on how to sell private treatment as opposed to the NHS option. So in this article, I am going to share with you some of the tips and strategies to help you when you are presenting one course of treatment as opposed to another. This information can be used in other situations and is not just applicable to NHS dentistry.

The most important thing I want to get across is not to make any assumptions on whether a patient will go for the private option or not. How many times have you prejudged a patient on what you feel they can or cannot afford? Perhaps you look at how they are dressed, their general appearance and consider where they live? I find in every programme that I have delivered in 20 years, this is one of the most common mistakes dentists tell me they make. You see if you prejudge a client then you are literally forcing them down a path, without allowing them to see what other choices they have. My view is that it is not up to the dentist to decide what the patient can or cannot afford – let them decide for themselves. Present both options and allow them to say yes or no to the private one.

For the purpose of this article, let’s say you have done an examination and consultation and the patient requires a crown on her front teeth. The first thing you need to do is put yourself in your patients’ shoes and see things from their point of view. You need to communicate at their level and also in a language that they understand.

The other thing you need to do when you are presenting both options is not to rubbish the NHS option. If you are still receiving income from the NHS, then it is unethical to do this. It says that you have no belief in the products and services that you provide. So what does a patient want to hear when you are communicating to them? It really is quite simple. They want to know:

1. What are the major differences?

2. What’s in it for me? In other words what are the major benefits of having a private crown? People don’t mind paying for the private crown; they just want to know what they are getting for their money.

This is where your technical knowledge comes into play. You have to inform the patient of the difference and how they will benefit.

So let’s say, for example, the private crown is a porcelain crown. You start off by telling the patient a feature of it. For example, these crowns are made entirely out of porcelain and they can look very natural and are most often used for front teeth.

So far so good. However, patients do not buy features; they are more interested in benefits, so if you don’t tell them, they will have to work it out for themselves. Dentists often think that the patient will know what the benefits are. They don’t – you have to tell them. So tell them that the major benefit will be that it will match the rest of their teeth. It blends in with the rest of their teeth.

Now you can go one step further, by informing the patient of another benefit which is often known as an advantage or the benefits of the benefit. This is not an easy statement to get across, but in short, it is the patient experiencing the benefit in their real life. For example, you let them know what they can now do that they possibly couldn’t before. It is the benefit of the benefit. As I have already said, this is not easy to get across, but if you can, it really is very powerful communication. The main thing is that this part of the communication addresses normally the emotional reasons why patients will buy and this, of course, is the most powerful.

So a quick summary when presenting treatment options to NHS patients:

1. Do not make assumptions – if you do this you are writing off your clients

2. Communicate on the level of your patients, wear their shoes

3. Do not talk too technical – they will not understand

4. Explain the difference using benefits and advantages

5. Be enthusiastic.

If you follow the above protocol, then you should increase your uptake of private treatment and have more people saying yes.


Ashley Latter specialises in coaching dentists, orthodontists and their teams to develop their ethical sales and communication skills, customer care and developing high-performance teams. He is the author of Don’t Wait for the Tooth Fairy – How to Communicate Effectively & Create the Perfect Patient Journey in your Dental Practice. To learn more about his programmes and also to sign up for his FREE email newsletter please visit


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