Increase Treatment Acceptance with Plain English

Confused dental patients rarely schedule; unfortunately patients rarely tell you when they are confused.  Therefore, if you want to increase treatment acceptance in your practice, make sure patients clearly understand what you are recommending.


Even though it sounds so simple, it’s much harder to apply since we overestimate our ability to communicate along with the patient’s ability to understand dental terminology.  Consider what the comedian Robert McCloskey once said about a similar topic. “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”  It’s a humorous way of trying to pass the blame for misunderstandings.

If you want to fine-tune how you and your dental team communicate with patients, always consider the take home points you want people to remember and work hard to make these points understandable to someone without a dental background.  For example, informing a patient he needs an MOD filling on #12 is clinically correct, but it is not clear to a patient.  And you do not build value for the treatment.


By letting a patient know he needs a filling on an upper left tooth because he has a cavity, and you want him to schedule for treatment in the next few weeks, you make treatment understandable and you build value.  Remember that patients understand and are motivated by terminology such as cavity, disease, infection, and discomfort.  They are easily confused with terms such as gray margin, perio, and pontic.

The words you choose when talking with patients really matter.  Make sure you and your team select words that patients could use when explaining their treatment plans to a friend.  By using plain English instead of clinical terminology, you can measurably increase treatment acceptance.

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