When building a new dental office, most designers or consultants will say the design absolutely must include a consultation room—a place to sit with patients and present treatment. The consultation room is usually one of the cleanest and most thoughtfully decorated rooms in the dental office. Many times, the walls of the consultation room feature the doctor’s degree certificates, accreditations and awards. There is a lot of importance placed on this room. So why is it that in most dental offices, the consultation room is the room that is used least often?
I am going to give you four reasons why the consultation room should be used each day, perhaps every hour for every patient. I will address why the consultation room often falls into disuse and explain how you can use it on a daily basis to enhance patient care in your practice.
First, let’s consider what happens in dental offices where the consult room is rarely used. Typically, the treatment plan is presented either chairside or at the front desk. In offices that present chairside, most often they present the clinical portion of the treatment plan with the patient in the chair but present the most important part—the money conversation—at the front desk. In my experience, that is the worst thing you can do. Why? Because you don’t get a patient’s true questions and objections until you bring up the money. When the patient understands how much the treatment is going to cost, that's when the real discussion begins. If this significant factor is communicated at the front desk, where other patients are within earshot, the patient will not likely voice their concerns to you. Another disadvantage to discussing money at the front desk is, that by this time, the patient has already psychologically gotten in the mindset of leaving the office as quickly as possibly. The bib is off, they’re out of the chair and they are standing only a few steps away from the front door, so they will say anything to walk away and end the visit.
Obviously, the front desk is not an ideal place for money conversations. But there are several reasons why presenting chairside is not the best idea, either. Whenever you present treatment to the patient, it’s important to create the best environment for them to make the decision to get the treatment done. You want the patient in the right emotional state to make a big decision about their dental health and their money. When people are in the dental chair, many times they are not in their normal state of mind. You have seen it—the patient is nice and happy in the reception area, but as soon as they hit that dental chair, they get stressed, quiet, nervous, etc. That is not the best state for someone to be in when you want them to make an informed decision about their dental health.
Getting the patient out of the operatory and into the consult room is beneficial for 4 reasons:
- The transition from the chair to the consult room allows the patient to relax and get back to a normal state of being. The consultation room is a decorated professional space that doesn’t feel clinical, allowing patients to feel calmer and more like themselves. This is an ideal setting for presenting treatment.
- Being in the consultation room gives patients the privacy to have a real discussion with the doctor or the employee presenting the treatment. You need to know the patient’s real concerns or questions so that you can fully address them and help the patient decide to do the treatment. If you aren’t getting those issues addressed, the patient ends up telling you they are going to move forward and then cancels, or they tell you they need to go “think about it” which results in the patient never scheduling.
- The consultation room gets the doctor out of the clinical area so that they can sit down and have a real discussion with the patient. Many times, doctors are not focused on the patient in front of them when there are so many things going on around them in the clinical area. The patient knows that the doctor is not really focused on them, and the doctor does not have the chance to have a real conversation with that patient. The consult room allows for true communication, knee to knee and eye to eye. This means the patient’s concerns will be heard and addressed, which results in a higher likelihood that the patient will agree to the treatment being proposed.
- Lastly, using the consultation room frees up the operatory so that while the consultation is happening, the room can be turned over and the next patient can be seated. When presenting treatment to a patient, you don’t want to feel rushed or hurried. If the patient ends up having a lot of questions—which is a good thing because it means they are considering the treatment you’re recommending—a chairside discussion will either cause the next patient to wait or will result in the discussion being moved up to the front desk, which (again) is the worst place to have it.
Given all these compelling reasons, it’s worth exploring why many offices don’t use the consultation room at all. I believe this happens for one of three reasons: the office doesn’t value the importance of the presentation process, so they don’t consider which setting will offer the highest chance of closing a patient; they are too focused on production, so the presentation is done quickly with the intent of getting the patient up front as soon as possible; or they are actively discouraging a lengthy conversation about treatment because they don’t want the patient asking questions about the treatment plan. It should be clear at this point that taking the added step of moving the conversation to a consultation room is worth the effort.
So, how can you make this transition happen? Well, it’s easy. Step one: get the patient out of the chair. Step two: escort them to the consultation room.
Seriously, here are the steps in the transition process:
Once the doctor knows what clinically needs to be presented to the patient, they invite the patient to meet with them in the consultation room where the doctor will discuss the patient’s situation and present recommendations.
The patient is then escorted into the consultation room at the end of the appointment or when it is time to present the treatment plan.
The treatment coordinator should immediately go into the consultation room, so the patient does not have to wait. People don’t like to wait, and a patient who must wait a long time on their own will be less likely to say yes to the treatment.
Either the treatment coordinator or doctor then presents the treatment plan to the patient and handles each and every question from the patient. It’s my suggestion that if the doctor is presenting the treatment plan, the treatment coordinator should stay in the consult room during the presentation, for three reasons. First, they can hear the treatment plan and know the reason for the work being recommended. Secondly, they can hear what questions the patient asks the doctor and make sure they are addressed. Last, they can facilitate getting the doctor out of the consult room to see their next patient and take over the consultation to finish getting the patient closed and scheduled.
I recognize that there are offices without a consultation room, and times when a consultation room may not be available for presenting treatment. In these cases, the next best thing is chairside or in a private area where a two-way communication can happen in the best possible way to get the patient truly talking with you. So, if the presentation absolutely must be chairside, then sit the patient up, sit knee to knee, remove your mask and gloves, put all the instruments to the side and really talk to the person in front of you.
Remember that when we are presenting treatment to a patient, from the patient’s perspective we are really presenting a vision of drills and needles in their mouths—expensive drills and needles. Most people want to avoid painful experiences, especially when they cost money. So, when you present to your patients, do your best to situate them in an environment where all their concerns can be addressed and where they can make a calm and informed decision to get the dental work done. Meeting in the consultation room for this type of presentation can make all the difference in whether a patient schedules or not.