How many times did you step on your breaks this morning on your way into work? Did you put laundry soap in the wash load? Close the garage door? When you picked up an ink pen to write a note, which hand did you pick it up with?

Chances are you don’t remember any of these things. We do so many things in our daily routine that are “automatic” to us, that we aren’t really intentional with them anymore. I think in dentistry, we are guilty of this more than we realize. We sometimes treat patients more like a number than like a person, without being conscious of it.

We need to remember that each person who comes through our doors is an individual with different wants and needs, a different income, and a different background than the next. If we put our daily duties on auto-pilot and approach each patient in the same way day in and day out, we are missing out on serving each person the best we can. Every patient deserves individualized attention, especially when the ultimate goal is to provide treatment that is best for them.

1. Prioritize Building Relationships

Our profession is all about relationships. Relationships with patients, sales representatives, our dental labs, and our own team. Form a great relationship with your patients and they will keep coming back to you. (And they will send their family and friends!) Earning trust and creating that great relationship takes time and an entire team that dedicates themselves to doing just that.

When presenting treatment to a patient, if your presentation and approach are the same with each one, by mid-morning you will have become automated and stale, regurgitating the same messages over and over. If you don’t come across as genuine, you won’t be believable no matter what your words are. This is not the way to form a lasting relationship with patients. And perhaps the biggest problem is…we don’t even realize when we do this!

2. Prioritize Being Intentional

In order to offer our patients the best of ourselves, we need to become more intentional. What does that mean, exactly? It means that you should approach each patient with the same individuality that they present you with when they arrive. We need to be intentional about the way we speak, in order to address their unique needs. We also need to be intentional in our listening. Are we truly hearing what they are saying, or are we so automated with what we already know they need, that we aren’t being present when listening to them? Are we simply waiting to react, rather than hearing what they are saying?

No matter what your position is in the office, whether it entails communicating a treatment plan, delivering post op instructions, asking for a referral, discussing financial responsibility, etc., we tend to repeat these “scripts” so much, that we are automated when doing it. If you’re stuck on autopilot, how do you know you covered everything…? Are you positive you gave the patient all the details…?

Remember, the patient doesn’t know what we know. We can’t assume they “got” it. We have to know they understand. Having a team that is on the same page is essential in order to achieve this. Knowing what to say, knowing how to say it, and knowing that everyone on the team is fluent in “the office language” are keys to making sure the patient is equipped with information and understanding. Applying these keys to tasks like reaching out and following up with the patient after their appointment, not only shows that you genuinely care – it also helps squash any potential misunderstandings right away, before they even have the chance to form.

3. Prioritize Empathy

Many situations bring people into our practices – pain, a major life event, seeking better health, or maybe a lack of confidence in their smile. People who avoid the dentist especially are embarrassed of their oral health. They are hesitant to smile, they are afraid of judgement from the dentist and the team, and the potential cost of treatment scares them. If we sit down, employ empathy, and truly listen to them, though, we can create a treatment plan as individual as they are.

Our children are visiting the dentist earlier and our patients are living longer. This means the need for patience and understanding of the issues our patients face daily, is more important than ever. Empathy will serve you well in creating those valuable long-term relationships based on trust and understanding. Developing great communication skills that also include listening, is what will seal the bond our patients have with us.

One of my favorite sayings is “perspective is everything.” Always try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. We all have a different perspective on any given situation. Doing your best to understand the needs of other individuals will not only help your patients – it will also go a long way towards fostering positive communication with your team members. When we practice what we preach, we all win!

Remember, the purpose of turning off autopilot is to build lasting relationships. Invest in building those relationships, and you will gain the loyalty and trust of your patients. And what do happy patients do? They tell all of their friends how amazing you are!

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