Not long ago dentists were revered as the most trusted of professionals by the public, but that is no longer the case. In a 2013 Gallup survey we dropped to number five with Nurses in the number one spot. Pharmacists, Medical Doctors and Engineers fill in the numbers two, three and four slots. In looking back it appears that most of the negative comments about dentistry centered on the perception that we are only in it for the money. When did it become that way?
Thirty years ago I thought that dentists were number one in trustworthiness and honesty and also number one in suicides among professionals. When I hear patients coming for a second opinion or telling me that they “Googled” options for their problem I can’t help but get concerned that we have become service providers rather than healers. I am sure that many of you go to car dealers with a problem and then when you are told that it will be $1500 for repairs you immediately start asking questions.
Recently I found a nail in my wife’s car tire. When I took it to a tire shop to see what could be done the service person took a five second look and told me I needed a new tire. I immediately said, albeit too loudly, that I expected to hear that but how can he know that quickly. I was the consumer and had no trust in this person or the business and assumed the outcome. He came out with a pair of pliers and removed the nail only to find that it was extremely short and had done no damage to my tire. He told me that I was lucky and that he normally sees these problems and nine out of ten times it means a new tire.
So it’s a trust thing, right? I didn’t trust this guy like a new patient doesn’t trust us. Our patients talk with others and have concluded that we offer more services than are strictly necessary. They are convinced, like me, that when they enter our offices we see what work we can do rather than what should be done. So even if you are conservative in your recommendations you will still appear to be selling and not healing.
How do we reverse this trend? We need to strive to reverse this notion of selling services. Unfortunately, we have all listened to practice management gurus and dental manufacturers. We have attended continuing education and we have purchased the best that dentistry has to offer. But do we really listen and talk to our patients? Do we ask about sick spouses and ill pets? Do we celebrate life moments with acknowledgements of cards or gifts? Do we attend events to show our caring? It’s awfully hard with how busy our lives are these days. When was the last time your financial planner visited you when you were sick and knew about your illness? When did your cable provider last ask your patient about their newest grandchild and make a big deal about it?
You have the power to be better than all of them. You should be part of your community, whether you live in a small town or major city. What sets us apart from the other businesses that I described is that we invade people’s personal space every day when we perform dental care. It’s really an honor and a privilege that someone will allow us inside that space. It also gives us an opportunity to build a relationship. Patients want and need to know that we are working for them and not just for ourselves. They need to feel cared for and helped and not just “worked on.”
Now I know that not all of us are that touchy – feely. And I know that you must be careful not to cross the line between kindness and caring to creepy and annoying. But, if you want your patients to accept what you have to say as a knowledgeable and caring dental care provider you must earn their trust. Otherwise they are just going to go home and look for the cheapest dentist in your town.
Bruce R. Terry DMD
PDA Journal Editor
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