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3 Ways to Solve Your Problems with Verbal Skills

One of the most dreaded questions for practices is “Do you take my insurance?” Admin team members often don’t know how to respond effectively to it. Unfortunately, there’s typically not as much support for the admin side of dentistry, so it’s common for patients to receive a simple “Yes” or “No” in response to their questions. The root of the problem, however, lies in the fact that patients feel they need to ask about insurance in the first place. We’ve been trained through medical insurance that we can’t see a doctor that doesn’t take our insurance, but that’s not the case in dentistry. It’s up to us to help patients get over the need to ask the question, and the answer is simple: better verbal skills.

To help you along this journey, we’ve created the Say This, Not That document, which is a collection of things we’ve heard over the years that weren’t effective. It includes many examples of what you can instead say, as well as space where you can create responses that are tailored to your practice. Like Kirk says, “Your ability to communicate as a team is going to determine how far you go in dentistry,” so make the decision to increase your team’s success.

1. Build Relationships

Keep in mind that patients are typically only leading off with this question because they don’t know what else to ask. Your team members must understand that this isn’t something to get mad or frustrated about, instead, treat it as an opportunity to shift the patient’s mindset. Lead Practice Coach Heather Crockett says that “We are human first, and we need to make sure we’re getting their name and understanding a little more about them before we jump into those hard-to-answer questions.” Your first goal should be to work on building a relationship with your patients over the phone because when they’re immediately asking about insurance without giving their name, that’s a problem.

Sometimes you don’t need to answer the question. Instead, ask another question. After all, as Director of Operations Christina Byrne phrases it, “You don’t know how to help them if you don’t know why they called.” Whoever is asking the questions is controlling the conversation, and it shouldn’t be the patient. You want to thoughtfully guide the conversation, so ask questions that help you connect with the patient and understand them:

  • What’s your name?
  • Why have you chosen us?
  • What brought you here?
  • What are your goals?
  • What are your values?

People are much more inclined to do business with people they like, so your goal should be to create an experience that’s relational, not transactional.

2. Watch Your Language

Lead Practice Coach Jenni Poulos says it all the time: “Words matter,” because what we say and how we say it impacts how well we’re able to communicate with each other and our patients. Whatever you talk about, the patient thinks they need to talk about, so the more you bring up insurance, the more they will too. If your first question to them is about insurance, then you’re basing the whole relationship on insurance. In fact, Lead Practice Coach Adriana Booth recommends swapping out the word “insurance” for “benefits,” because it has a much more positive connotation.

While my practice is fee-for-service, I don’t demonize insurance. In fact, I love that it helps patients access their needed dental care. The problem is the preconceived notion that people have about what dental insurance actually is. Typically they’re told by an employer to go see the providers that are on their plan, but a patient can use their benefits even if the dentist isn’t in-network. When you say, “No, we don’t take your insurance,” you’re closing the door on that relationship. Instead, help them understand that regardless of your PPO status, you will help them utilize the benefits they have. As Practice Analyst Deena Meldgin urges, patients need to know that they’ve called the right place.

3. Practice Makes Progress

You want to find the right verbiage that helps you portray the message in your brain, so download the free Say This, Not That tool and use the examples it provides. Then it’s just a matter of practicing until it’s second nature. Roleplaying is an extremely important way that we learn how to respond in specific situations, even though I hate doing it! The ACT team recommends “triad learning,” which is a form of roleplaying, but it sounds much less intimidating. Have three people roleplay situations, then use it as a brainstorming session to create your own unique version of the Say This, Not That document.

The best training, as long as it’s legal in your state, is to record phone calls and then go back and listen to them. I did this earlier in my career with consultations, and it was amazing how awful I was. Listening to your conversations might not be the most enjoyable task, but you will immediately notice what you’re doing wrong. From there, it’s just a matter of focusing on improving your verbal skills.

There’s so much misinformation about dental insurance out there, and it can be a massive source of frustration when all patients want to ask about is whether you take their insurance. However, this is a chance for you to help patients understand why they don’t need to ask. But to change their mindset, yours must first change. Teach your team the critical role that verbal skills play with the Say This, Not That tool, and use them to build relationships with your patients. They need to know that they made the right decision in picking up the phone and calling you, so pick up the phone yourself and reach out so the ACT coaches can show you how to make it happen. You deserve a Better Practice and a Better Life, and the key to achieving both is sharpening your verbal skills and learning to Say This, Not That!

Dr. Barrett Straub is the Director of Education at ACT Dental


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