The (mis)information age
The internet has caused an explosion in the amount of knowledge available to the average person. Unfortunately, not all that information is accurate. Since Google is the No. 1 search engine by far, that's where people find most of the inaccurate dental information floating around.
There's an old saying that goes, "If there's one thing that abounds, it's misinformation." Today, that old saying is epitomized by the joke, "I read it on the internet, so it must be true." For all too many of your dental patients, that's no joke: They read something about dentistry, whether it's accurate or not, and suddenly, they're experts. And a potential pain for you.
The Google expert is a relatively new phenomenon, dating back fewer than 10 years. You've undoubtedly run into a few—or more than a few—Google dental experts.
Dealing with know-it-all, know-nothing patients can be a challenge for any health professional. My dad, Dr. Ronald Receveur, is a dentist in the greater Louisville, Kentucky, area, and I spent a lot of time in his practice while I was growing up. Even then, the practice had its share of dentist wannabes.
Dad had the patience of a saint … usually. There were some patients, though, who sorely tested both his patience and his temper. And that was before the mass of misinformation on the internet was widely available.
With ever-more people finding inaccurate information on the web, "truth decay" has become a major pain for dentists to deal with.
From my experiences watching Dad deal with dental know-it-alls, and from working extensively with hundreds of dentists, I've come up with a few "truth decay" types.
Well-meaning but wrong
These people usually have a friend who had "exactly" the same dental issue, and have done some online research to verify that, yep, that's exactly what they have, as well. Of course, nobody's done a comparison of their X-rays or scans, much less an actual clinical exam. It's easy to explain to this patient why their case is different.
They've heard about a treatment, and they've decided that it's for them, period. These types will often research articles online until they find one that confirms their bias. They'll often bring a copy of the article with them to their appointment. It usually turns out to be from 2002, and they've ignored all the studies since then that contradict their prized study. These bias-confirmers will back down, with some embarrassment, when you discuss later findings. However, the hardcore ones won't take no for an answer, and they'll doctor-shop until they find a dentist willing to give them what they want.
The arrogant type
Maybe they flunked out of dental school or couldn't get a scholarship. Or they need therapy. Regardless, the arrogant types are probably the hardest of the Google experts to deal with. They'll challenge you on everything from diagnosis to scan interpretation to treatment plan to cost. Some have a mishmash of information and make illogical arguments to support their positions.
You're pretty much wasting your time with these patients. The only way you win is to refer them to someone you don't like. You may have run into some Google experts who don't fit into these categories, so feel free to create your own.
Counter the misinformation
Unhappy patients can be poison to your practice—they not only talk to other prospective patients but also have been known to leave poisonous online reviews of your practice. Reviews are the new word-of-mouth advertising, and potentially affect the decisions of a huge number of prospective patients.
You certainly have your own ways of dealing with these types, but I'd like to suggest another: using your marketing proactively.
- Social media. You can help the worst of these experts self-select out of choosing you by blogging and posting about your approach to dentistry. Consider phrasing such as "Our treatment plans are driven by the latest and best research to ensure that every patient receives the very best care" or, "We value patients' input and will be happy to discuss your wishes. However, we always recommend the best treatment for a patient's particular dental issue."
- Your website. The content should attract the patients you want (and screen out those you don't). Consider taking the same approach to pre-empting Google experts by reframing patients' expectations in several places on your website. And if your website offers a chat function, you can privately address patients' misinformation and reshape their expectations before they pick up the phone to schedule their first appointment.
- Ongoing patient communications. Emails and e-newsletters are excellent means of communicating accurate information to your patients about a wide variety of dental problems and solutions. Use your emails to offer a link to a white paper or article that backs up what you're saying.
Proactively shaping patients' expectations is the ounce of prevention that can save you tons of chair time and aggravation with patients affected by Google-induced truth decay. Your staff—and your blood pressure—will thank you.