Recognizing a Major Patient Education Problem–Illiteracy

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of U.S. adults 16-74 years old–about 130 million people–lack proficiency in literacy.  These individuals have a reading aptitude below the sixth-grade level.

There are numerous reasons for this shocking statistic: poor education, learning difficulties, learning English as a second language, or simply lack of exposure to English.  These issues are apparent across many demographics and may affect even high achievers.  For example, an adult literacy program reported that one student was a well-respected cardiologist in his home country, but when he came to the United States mid-career, he was not able to read and write English.

There are four learning styles:

  • Auditory (listening)
  • Reading (comprehending written materials)
  • Visual (seeing)
  • Hands-on (kinesthetic or learning by doing)

For individuals who do not have a good command of English, verbal explanations may not be clearly understood.  Those with underdeveloped reading skills may have difficulty reading printed instructions or patient education information on a website.

This problem is compounded because it is not uncommon for people to be embarrassed by their lack of reading ability.  Stories abound of adults hiding their illiteracy or procrastinating for years before enrolling in a reading program, which are often taught be volunteer tutors.  There are patients in your office every week who sign forms and appear to understand spoken and written instructions but who do not fully understand the messages you are conveying.

For these patients, visual representations such as photos (intraoral and extraoral), x-rays, and videos are very useful.  Allowing a patient to handle a model also helps them understand the treatment plan. 

The Easy Way to Create a Dental Patient Education Ebook

The prospect of writing any kind of book can be daunting, but there is an easy way to get all that knowledge out of your head and into a dental patient education ebook. First, let’s define the purpose of the ebook. The content should be interesting and useful to the reader, but your goal in producing the book should not be to become a best selling author. Your objective should be to produce quality content that you can give away to patients and potential patients to promote your practice.

Value of an Ebook

An ebook has value because it positions you as the expert and enlightens and informs readers who are interested in the dental health topics you discuss. If you are the dentist who wrote the book, then you are the expert. Because you are not trying to make money from selling the book but are using the book for dental patient education, the ebook format makes perfect sense.

It is not worth searching for a publisher or producing a paper book yourself and paying for paper, printing, binding and much more. With an ebook, you can share your knowledge without incurring incremental costs for each book distributed.

The Easy Way to Create an Ebook

I interview doctors and use the transcripts to create social media content, including blogs and posts for Facebook and other platforms. The purpose is to foster patient education and improve search engine optimization. Once the interview process is complete and a year’s worth of weekly blogs are created for you, that same content can be re purposed into an ebook.

Charles Krauthamer’s best selling book Things That Matter is a compilation of his past newspaper columns. In a similar matter, your blogs and social media content, which I create from interviews conducted with you by phone, can be edited and organized into an ebook.

You should offer your ebook to patients who visit your website and enter their e-mail address in a contact box. In this way, you capture valuable new leads and give potential patients a wealth of information. The e-book should also be shared with existing patients, of course.

Click the following for more information: social media content creation.

You speak volumes in your office to educate patients. By capturing your thoughts and organizing them into a dental patient education ebook, you can attract more patients and further explain the benefits of quality dentistry.

Price Shoppers Need Dental Patient Education

One of the greatest threats to dentistry is that it is often perceived by price shoppers as a standardized commodity. This off-the-shelf mentality undermines the dentist’s message and the value of dental services and creates a dental patient education challenge.

The mentality is as follows. Your child needs braces? No problem. Just shop for the orthodontist with the lowest fee, because—in the minds of many—the treatment is all the same and the orthodontist is programmed to work the same way again and again. Start with crooked teeth, put on braces, straighten the teeth, remove braces. Repeat with the next patient. Most people do not appreciate the diagnosis, treatment planning, and clinical skill necessary to get an excellent result in orthodontics, especially with complex cases.

Price shoppers are of course not limited to orthodontic treatment but are pervasive throughout the dental marketplace, whether the treatment involves impacted wisdom teeth, dental implants, or even a single crown. When told that a crown is necessary, a patient’s first question is often related to the cost of the crown, not the type of crown or the expertise of the doctor who provides it. If you told your patients that you have boxes of crowns in your supply room organized by sizes, like shoes, many would believe you and wait for you to grab one off the shelf to test the fit.

The need for dental patient education to combat this perception grows every day. When the patient says, “I can get it cheaper somewhere else,” the message should be:

Dental treatment combines my artistic judgment with all my training and experience in the science of dentistry. You can get something similar somewhere else, but the crown that I provide is unique because no two crowns are exactly alike. I am committed to high quality dentistry that is customized for you.

One well placed volley will not necessarily slow the onslaught of price shoppers who come to your practice, but the “dentistry-is-an-art-and-science” message is both high minded and resoundingly true. You are a Picasso in a studio creating masterpieces, not a Sam Walton opening chain stores filled with mass produced merchandise. There is no sale on crowns in aisle four of your practice.

Like so many other artists, you may not be fully appreciated in your own time, but you are teaching patients, often individually, and exposing them to unique dental artwork.

David Schwab Ph.D.