One of the biggest challenges dental practices face is overcoming patients' unrealistic expectations. Before you provide care, it's important to give your patient a clear description of the treatment and a straightforward explanation of the likely outcome.
Let's learn more about managing patient expectations, starting with why patients might expect you to be a miracle worker.
Why Do Patients Expect the Impossible?
Some patients might have preconceived notions that they don't share with you. For example, maybe a patient…
- Saw marketing pamphlets in your waiting room and expects their teeth to look exactly like the ones in the "after" photo.
- Watched a lot of late-night infomercials about teeth whitening products and expects perfect pearly whites after one treatment.
- Heard a friend rave about their new crown and got angry when their crown cost twice as much. They don't understand that they needed additional work that their friend didn't.
Unless a patient is completely upfront about their expectations, you are in the awkward position of being expected to deliver results you never promised. Unfortunately, these misunderstandings can lead to dental malpractice lawsuits.
According to a report by the American Board of Legal Medicine…
- 12.1 percent of all medical malpractice payment reports in the US in 2002 were against dentists.
- The plaintiff won 39 percent of medical malpractice trials against dentists in 2001.
If a patient decides to sue, dental liability insurance can help protect your practice by covering the cost of a malpractice lawsuit.
How Dentists Can Communicate Clearly and Market Mindfully
To prevent malpractice lawsuits, provide each patient with a very clear explanation of the procedure before you begin work. Give them an idea of what the expected outcome is, and be careful not to guarantee a particular result.
It's equally important to make sure patients understand the repercussions if they refuse a suggested course of treatment. For example, let's say you recommend a gum tissue graft to a patient and they refuse to go through with the procedure. Before the patient leaves your office, they need to understand that skipping this surgery increases their risk of losing the tooth.
Next, be aware of how you market your practice. Can you back up the claims or promises you make? If not, you need to dial it back.
For example, these statements in your promotional materials can create unrealistic expectations:
- Pain-free cleanings!
- We can provide whiter smiles than any of our competitors!
No doubt you take great care to minimize any patient discomfort and provide excellent whitening services. But can you truly guarantee either of those two claims? Probably not.
Some businesses make plenty of over-the-top statements, such as a restaurant claiming to be home to the BEST cup of coffee. However, when it comes to dental care, you don't want to make promises you can't keep. While it's pretty unlikely someone will sue the restaurant over their coffee claim, a patient may feel differently if they don't think your work matched your claim for ultra-white teeth.
So by all means, promote your business and services – just make sure you aren't promising anything you can't deliver.
For additional marketing pointers, check out "Dentists: Is Your Marketing Up to Speed?"