I hear this all the time from doctors and team members alike. We tend to gripe and complain about all the things that patients consistently just don’t understand or do properly or follow through on. And the things that aggravate us most (and thus the things we complain most loudly and often about) are the issues that crop up every single day. The fact that patients don’t follow our instructions or obey the rules or do things properly may make us feel like we are justified in being upset with them. From our point of view it seems logical that patients are at fault. However, what is the common denominator in all these situations?

If you said patients are the one common issue in all these problems then you are wrong. Each patient is an individual and we cannot judge one person or predict their actions based on group affiliation as we have discussed on OrthoPundit many, many times. So it stands to reason that WE are the common denominator and the source of our chronic problems!

We have discussed the nature of chronic problems in the past and how they are actually opportunities but here we will examine this issue from a different angle and I’d like to look at why patients “don’t get it”. If you’re willing to consider an alternative point of view then it is possible that these chronic issues that patients “just don’t get” are actually neon signs pointing out areas where we are doing a bad job of communicating or where we have policies that need to be reconsidered or even discarded. Maybe looking at examples of common complaints will make this more clear:

  • Patients don’t brush and floss like they should
  • Patients keep saying they couldn’t find the office and that’s why they were late
  • Patients consistently fill out the paperwork incorrectly
  • Patients break too many brackets
  • Patients don’t wear elastics properly
  • Patients and parents demand after school appointments
  • Patients don’t show up on time for appointments
  • New patients no show too often
  • Patients don’t bring their insurance information
  • Patients don’t understand their insurance
  • Patients get mad at us for issues with their insurance

In our world these problems are totally the fault of patients but in reality it’s much more likely that we do a poor job of education, do a poor job of communication or have unreasonable expectations that lead to these chronic issues. You disagree? That’s fine but you should realize that you and your team are the common denominator AND that we cannot change others – we can only change our own behavior!

Of course, another point of view to consider is that the problems we habitually complain about are just the way of the world and something we need to learn to deal with as part of our jobs. They do call this work for a reason! No shows by new patients, for example, are something I’ve seen increase over the years. Also the rate of conversion and the way we measure conversion desperately needs to be recalibrated.

Please don’t take this piece as admonishment but rather an opportunity to explore different points of view and an attempt to give you more options to solve the chronic problems that plague almost all dental offices! We must keep in mind every single day that patients are never the problem – patients are the reason we have jobs and can take care of our families.

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