Dental Patient Expectations

September 7, 2017 Mary Osborne RDH

3 Ways to Help Patients Articulate Their Expectations for Successful Dental Treatment

Patient expectations are a tricky thing in dentistry. They vary from patient to patient both in the level to which expectations are considered and in the content of those expectations.

You can ensure good relationships with your patients if you define expectations before providing treatment. Exceeding expectations doesn’t require you to be perfect. It simply requires paying attention and showing an enthusiastic desire to fully meet their goals.

Before you can deliver on your promises, you first have to figure out what exactly the patient wants.

3 Ways to Figure Out Patient Expectations

Meeting and exceeding expectations is tricky because patients usually don’t know outright what will make them happy. They may not know how to articulate what they’re thinking.

Your guidance is most effective when offered during the comprehensive exam appointment. It’s important to gather views and opinions rather than solely data.

1. Ask About Their General Health

This can tell you what a patient’s aspirations are for their health. Interestingly, the clinician’s perspective on what a patient ‘needs’ may not match up with what they actually ‘want.’

Unless the treatment is detrimental to their health, why get in the way of what they value just because it doesn’t line up with what you would personally choose?

An example of this is a situation I encountered where a patient had asked about bleaching. The dentist felt her teeth were already white enough and discouraged her from bleaching. He later learned from one of his hygienists that she was the type of person who highly valued small differences in her aesthetics (i.e. she ran five to six miles every day for fitness).

He decided to reopen the bleaching discussion now that he better understood her values.

2. Ask If They Regularly See a Physician

This does more than give you the name of your patient’s physician. It starts a discussion about how the patient chose their physician and what they like or don’t like about the care they receive in that practice.

Pay attention to any comments that indicate a high or low level of trust for healthcare providers. You can also learn about their scheduling convenience and cost containment preferences, as well as how much they value a doctor’s willingness to take the time to listen to them. Ask them to tell you more about their answers and how they apply to expectations of your practice.

 3. Ask About Their Previous Dental Experiences

Similarly, this gives you more than just concrete data. It’s a chance to learn what their attitude is toward dentistry and how their past experiences have shaped what they expect of you.

For example, if the patient tells you they go to the dentist regularly but still get cavities, this might lead you to wonder why they think decay continues to occur. You can ask follow-up questions such as, “Would you like to change that pattern?” or “What part do you see me playing in preventing decay?”

Ultimately, clarity is the key to good relationships with patients. Endeavor to understand them on a deeper level and you will deliver care that exceeds expectations.

What questions do you ask patients to provide better care? Please let us know in the comments!


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About Author

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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