Explaining treatment to a patient can be one of the more difficult tasks for a dentist. Finding the right words at the right time in the right circumstance can be unnerving, and it can mean the difference between your patient saying “yes” or “no” to treatment.
We have witnessed an untold number of methods and technologies that attempt to help doctors and their staff educate and persuade patients to accept treatment. Those of us who have purchased marketing brochures, DVD’s, intra-oral cameras and digital radiographs know that visual illustrations and graphics sometimes fall short.
We must enter the mind through an emotional gateway: through metaphor and storytelling.
There is no greater feeling when you use the right words, at the right time. Your patient goes from having that MEGO expression (Mine Eyes Glaze Over) to a look of understanding and acceptance.
One morning last week I was about to do a crown for a patient when he stopped me mid-injection and said, “Hey Doc, all I see is a little hole in this tooth…it doesn’t look all that bad.”
“Uh oh,” I thought. In an instant I explained to him that the little hole was just the entrance to a much larger hole…like the entrance to a cave. Hence the word “cavity.”
Instantly his eyes focused. He saw a reference in his mind. The cavity now had context. He said, “Okay, I get it. Let’s go.”
And so, words saved the day.
Actually “word pictures” saved the day.
Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” What we dentists seem to forget is that dentistry is advanced technology to most people.
We suffer from the Curse of Knowledge.
In another recent case a patient came in with three hopeless teeth. Way beyond repair. Abscessed and broken down o the gum line. He kept asking me if I could save them. What was obvious to me and my staff had him bewildered. He thought dentists could save anything…that’s what we do, right?
His problem originated when an oral surgeon extracted a few teeth years ago and a dental assistant told him that the teeth could be saved. Nothing like throwing your boss under the bus.
This left doubt and mistrust in the patient’s mind.
I asked him what he did for a living and he said he worked in construction.
I needed a metaphor…quickly.
I painted a picture with words of a wooden fence that came down in a storm. The fence posts were split apart at ground level. I asked how he would fix the fence…he just looked at me and understood that these teeth had to come out.
The power of metaphor.
Dentists, especially the successful ones have been using storytelling and metaphor since way before technology tried to make our lives easier. Stories and metaphor enable us to achieve a deeper emotional connection.
Can you think of any great metaphors that have helped you explain treatment to your patients?
Here are three more…
1. The TMJ as a camp trunk…with hinges and locks
2. The TMJ as a door (works well, too)
3. Balancing the tires on your car as a metaphor for equilibration