Nurse speaking as the patient is looking directly at her

30-Second Coaching Tips for Patient Empowerment

April 1, 2019

Author: By Dr. Ryder Waldron, DDS

Sometimes the pace of a dental appointment feels like you are moving at the speed of light. After a health history review, X-rays and cleaning, a dentist's individual time with a patient can be limited. We must be ready to use the valuable moments we have for patient empowerment and education. Crafting a 30-second coaching message can help you make the most of the time you have with each patient.

An Elevator Pitch for Oral Health

When creating your 30-second message, think about times in your daily life that you have been given similar pitches. When a waiter at a restaurant recites the drinks menu and gives their recommendations, you probably recognize it as a memorized script that may not account for what you, the customer, really need. Instead of a scripted speech, craft your own flexible 30-second "elevator pitch" that creates trust and is personalized for each patient.

In my 30-second message, I like to include the following:

  • Recommendations for oral care at home
  • A reminder of any treatment they need now or in the near future, including their next hygiene appointment
  • Visual aids or take-home instructions to help with compliance
  • Encouragement for what they are doing well
  • An invitation to ask any questions

Example of a Coaching Message

You may try something like: "Mr. Garcia, it looks like you are doing a good job with your brushing, but I did notice a couple of areas of gingivitis that I think could go away with regular daily flossing. Your smile looks amazing, and I know you'd like to keep it that way. Here are some floss samples and instructions on the best flossing techniques to put in your take-home kit. I think you are doing so well with your brushing that adding regular flossing will be no problem for you. During my exam I also noticed that you have a cavity in a tooth on your top right, and I would recommend getting it fixed as soon as possible so that it doesn't get any worse. I can show it to you on your X-rays if you'd like. What questions do you have for me?"

The way you deliver your 30-second pitch is just as important as the words you use. Dental professionals are beginning to recognize how the principles of behavioral economics can shape patients' responses, according to the journal Oral Health and Dental Management. Behavioral economics recognizes that people are heavily influenced by factors like their emotions and a speaker's level of expertise. To maximize your coaching opportunities, practice good communication skills like maintaining eye contact and offering the patient time to respond and interact.

Adapting to Patient Needs

Any information you give a patient should be tailored to allow you to communicate it genuinely. Take time to practice and build your confidence. Practice for different scenarios like talking to a patient in good oral health, telling a patient they need periodontal treatment and explaining a patient's options for dentures.

Thirty seconds isn't a long time, but it can be enough time for effective coaching and patient empowerment. Make sure you don't rush through your message or your patient may feel slighted. Sit your patient up and look them in the eye while you talk with them. These coaching moments should reinforce what patients are doing well and give them information and techniques that are easy to understand and implement. Even when you are pressed for time, you can give patients the confidence and motivation to maintain and improve their oral health.

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