Have you heard of “the curse of knowledge?” If an astrophysicist tries to help a high school student with his Algebra I homework, the supremely educated adult may not understand why the student just does not get it. Part of the answer is that the astrophysicist knows too much—that which is obvious to the scientist may leave the student oblivious.
Micah Soloman has an interesting article in Forbes on the curse of knowledge. Mr. Soloman writes:
“In healthcare, where the stakes are extremely high, the patient experience and patient satisfaction often suffer from devastating manifestations of the curse of knowledge. It can lead healthcare workers to deal poorly with the distress experienced–because they’ve seen a similar non-life threatening situation (say, a broken ankle) so many times before and it always turned out all right that they discount the pain and fear experienced by someone for whom this is happening now.”
A similar scenario plays out in dental offices every day. A patient is scheduled in an endodontist’s office for root canal therapy. Let’s say that the patient has been told by his brother-in-law that root canals are very painful. The brother-in-law is seldom right but never in doubt, even though he has never personally had this procedure.
Based on modern misconceptions of root canal therapy and comments from his uninformed brother-in-law, the patient is very nervous upon arrival at the office. To allay the patient’s fears, team members in the endodontist’s office may simply say, “Everything is going to be fine.” This message is part of their mantra because every day patients show up afraid and leave saying that they cannot believe the root canal was so easy. This message, though meant to be helpful, may not be sufficient to reassure the patient.
Other procedures provoke similar reactions in patients prior to treatment: the placement of dental implants, periodontal surgery, and third-molar extractions come to mind, to name but a few. Even the thought of a hygiene visit or a lowly one-surface restoration can cause some patients to firmly grip the arms of the dental chair.
A dental patient may perceive the doctor and team to be cold and detached if they do not fully acknowledge or deal with the patient’s fears prior to a procedure. The dental practice management goal should be to turn the curse of knowledge into the blessing of empathy.
Here are some reassuring messages to start conversations with patients that show your empathy and also help assure and relax the patient. (You should add details based on the specifics of your office after each one.)
I completely understand your concern. Let me explain what is going to happen.
To keep you comfortable during and after the procedure, we are going to . . . .
Dr. Smile has performed thousands of these procedures and his patients give him rave reviews for his expertise and gentle touch.
We have a great team and everyone here is dedicated to your safety, your health, and your comfort. Let me give you some details.
Many patients tell us that the worst part of the procedure was worrying about it ahead of time. After everything is done, they often say that the procedure itself was . . . .
Great customer service in dentistry is a subset of dental marketing and it must include seeing issues from the patient’s point of view and not becoming desensitized to a patient’s fear prior to treatment just because you know that there is nothing to worry about.
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