We care deeply for our patient family and are oral-systemic experts. Because we have invested enormous amounts of time and money in quality education, we know best what people need for strong teeth and a long health span. Our patients appreciate this and always listen intently to what we tell them they need to do. They happily reach into their wallets and hand us their credit card. Right? In my 34 years of clinical experience: Wrong! People buy what they want, not necessarily what they need. We must build our communication skills to equip each patient to understand their personal benefits of dental care from an oral-systemic (ad)vantage point. When they want and trust our expert options, we have the opportunity to provide the highest quality of care. Be the guide, not the hero.
Utilizing coaching tools is one way to do this. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a non-directive communication skill that involves active listening and thoughtful questioning to deepen thinking — allowing patients to find their own solutions. Developed in part by psychologists William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, this patient-centered approach allows people to feel empowered and responsible enough to act. I was first exposed to MI during my training at Mayo Clinic in Health and Wellness Coaching and have found that patients really appreciate being respected and listened to. Unfortunately, that is becoming rare in healthcare settings. This communication skill allows people to explore and resolve their ambivalence to new ideas. While we as dental professionals are still in a position and have a responsibility to advise, first things first!
Begin thinking about asking open-ended questions to start a conversation rather than first giving directives or asking closed questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” Here are three examples to get you started:
- What concerns you most about the current direction of your health?
- What do you want to be able to do when you are 70? (Pick an appropriate stage in life and let them dream.)
- Tell me about your energy level/quality of sleep/bowel habits. (Consider this question carefully because they will tell you everything!)
Each of these open-ended questions can start meaningful dialog and help patients open their minds to the benefits of OralDNA® salivary testing. The amygdala, the emotional area of the brain, controls our instantaneous response, discerning between good or bad, safe or threatening, friend or foe. Emotional decisions do not typically produce long-term commitment; we want to guide patients to resolve questions with their prefrontal cortex – the area designed for decision making and “executive function.” When health decisions originate from thoughtful understanding, the patient becomes the hero of their own health trajectory and are highly likely to refer their family and friends for more of your wise guidance. The concrete, objective results from salivary testing visually helps patients arrive at their decisions.
In the sage words of Winston Churchill, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” Be the guide, not the hero. It may seem counterintuitive; but, in the long run it cultivates happier and healthier patients. And that is exactly what creates a good day at the office!