The four barriers that prevent patients from choosing optimum treatment

Brett Churnin, October 2018. 

barriers that prevent patients from choosing optimal treatment
When a dentist offers treatment options to their patients, they do so with the patients’ optimum and long-term oral health in mind. It seems logical that a person should choose the best option for their optimum health as recommended by their health professional. Even though it might cost a little more, it should make sense if it’s a better long-term option. 

Yet in dentistry, this is often not the case.

It is not uncommon for patients to say that they need to think about it or check their finances, look at their schedule, or maybe speak to their partner. Or in most cases, they may just choose a sub-optimal option that’s cheaper, or worse - do nothing at all.

Why does this happen?

There are many reasons why patients don’t choose the optimum options. Here are four barriers that many dentists find challenging to handle:

1) Previous experiences

Most patients will be able to tell you about a previous dental experience that wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Perhaps they experienced pain (physical or financial!) that they weren’t expecting. Or perhaps, the pain was emotional – they felt like they were being lectured or patronised, or that they were being pushed into treatment they didn’t think they needed.

Whatever the previous experience was, most patients will naturally transfer their past experience into their present experience with you. And unless you uncover that past experience and manage it with care, it will impact how the patient listens to you, and how open they are to any treatment options offered.

2) Dr. Google

It is not uncommon for patients to think they know what they need, because they’ve done their ‘research’ online before seeing you. The gap between what they think they need and what you think they need can be huge, and the bigger the gap, the harder it will be for the patient to accept optimum treatment, especially if doesn’t concur with their research.

It can be tempting for some dentists to dismiss the patient’s self-diagnosis, but doing so can also have the unintended effect of polarising the patient’s opinions. Education, combined with an openness to listen to the patient’s perspective, is key in these situations – help the patient feel well and properly informed.

3) The Common Beliefs

There are many beliefs about oral health that patients hold to be ‘true’ and that get in the way of them choosing optimum treatment. The two most widely held beliefs are…

“...if there’s no pain, there isn’t any problems.”
“…it’s been fine for the past 20 years, it’ll be ok for the next 20 years.”

Whilst these beliefs are understandable from the patient’s perspective, we know there is little veracity in either of those views.

Again, it can be tempting for some dentists to correct misguided patient beliefs, whilst in the process unintentionally making the patient feel wrong for having those beliefs. Doing so will only make it harder for patients to seek treatment for problems that aren’t painful or have existed for many years. Turning those beliefs around requires a degree of self-management, empathy, and good listening skills.


4) Sales Perception

Whilst it is rarely the intention of dentists to create sales pressure, even the perception of sales can feel like pressure. Being ‘told’ they ‘need’ treatment can trigger a resistance reflex that is deeply embedded in many patients. It’s not the information, but rather the process, that creates pressure.

This commonly occurs when patients lack ownership of their oral health problems. In the absence of awareness or concern about the damaging results of the existing conditions, any treatment options – especially elective and expensive ones – have the potential of landing as a sales pitch. 


Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this, and a lot of it has to do with setting up the conversation the correct way from the beginning. By first identifying and understanding why patients might perceive sales pressure, this will then enable you to effectively navigate your communication approach with your patients.

>> Click here to read more on the Power of Good Patient Communication.


Related Articles:
Why do people always say "I hate going to the dentist"?
Why patients say the dreaded four words - "I'll think about it".


Primespeak provides a new concept in patient communication, founded in both psychology and the nuances of actual patient behaviour. It incorporates a whole new way of thinking about how you communicate with patients in an ethical way, and increases treatment acceptance at the same time.

Find out more about Primespeak here.  

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