Friday, December 30, 2016

Stop Thinking Like A Clinician When It Comes To Images

Ever feel like you're searching for a good reason to take exceptional images?

Having taught clinical photography and techniques for better internal marketing and increased patient engagement for 20 years, I've had to learn a lot about those subjects. That's why I chuckle a little bit whenever the topic of "why take clinical images" is brought up in a social media group. The answers I see are interesting and usually include: "to help with documentation", "to show your objective", "to show/give patients before and afters", "for diagnosis" and so on. Those are all excellent reasons, but the main reason most people come to my courses, the primary thing that finally gets them to introduce a strong clinical photography protocol is simply put, to make more money from their practices.

There, I said it. I brought up the topic of making more money. For some of you, it makes perfect sense and for others, money and dentistry shouldn't be said in the same sentence. After all, we are professionals, and we have a moral and ethical code to do what's in our patients' best interests. Money shouldn't play a role in our decision making process. Right? Well, not really.

Would you agree that if every patient understood their current dental/orthodontic condition, I mean REALLY understood it, they would be far more likely to accept the best treatment alternative to fix it? If they did understand it at the highest level, and your case acceptance rate went up, wouldn't you make more money?

Then why aren't you doing that?!?!?!

Sure, you may be sending home some before and after images or showing prospective patients your finished cases. Maybe you have an online gallery on your website or finished smiles adorn your office walls. That's all good but very few, and I mean VERY few clinicians are thinking like non-clinicians...and thinking like a non-clinician is the best way to communicate with your patients.

I want you to imagine an ideal scenario: You come into the room, show a patient everything that's going on with the case, spend just a couple of minutes talking and then you leave the room and a highly qualified treatment coordinator explains everything and "sells" the case. Sounds similar to what you may be doing? Every dentist should be at least doing that much, but it's woefully inadequate and filled with areas where the process can fail.

So, how about we step it up a bit and instead of your treatment coordinator explaining it, the patient actually explains it to themselves? Huh???? How does that happen, you ask? Easy.

The process is called "digital co-diagnosis" and I first wrote about it in a 3 part series in Dental Economics back in 2007. It's like digital case presentation, with one big difference: the patient diagnoses the case and the words come out of their mouth, not yours. Sounds odd, right? Here's how it works: I could tell you about a cavity, show you a picture and then tell you how to fix it, or using digital co-diagnosis, I could show you a high quality image and lead you down a path to where YOU tell me that you need a filling. Let me give you an example.

In orthodontics, we talk about bite related problems all day long. I could show you an image of your bite (class II end on) and then describe all the reasons why you should be class I.  I could talk about the TMJ, occlusion, wear, blah, blah, blah... (stuff that's important to us clinicians).  I could even show you a picture of a class I and show you the differences, hoping that I've made a good connection with you and that you'll start treatment, all the time thinking like a clinician, not a salesman. (Note: If I want you to buy what I'm selling, I better be thinking like a salesman. Oh, BTW, salesman does not mean an unethical salesman. Sales and ethics have nothing to do with one another but that's a different topic.)

Now imagine that I show you some images and don't say a word. I let you see everything that I'm looking at while I survey the dental landscape. Just for 30 seconds or so, but long enough for you to get a glimpse of your teeth like you never have before. Then, I ask you (and I am thoroughly shortening the process for right now) what differences you see between the image of a perfect bite that I have on the wall right next to the monitor, versus what you see on the screen. Perhaps I nudge you a bit with questions like: "Do your teeth come together like gears [showing the picture on the wall of a treated class I as I say it] or do they hit more 'point to point' like rocks hitting against one another?", "Which seems healthier with less long term wear; the gears or rocks hitting one another?" followed by "How would you classify your bite; gears or points hitting one another?" then "Would you like to talk about how to get your teeth to hit like the ones in the picture on the wall?"

I know the the differences may seem subtle, but there is a massive difference in patient engagement and case acceptance when a patient actually answers the aforementioned questions with answers like "No, they don't come together like gears. They look like points against points and it seems like it's less healthy than gears coming together. You mean there's a way to fix that? Sure, I'd love to talk about it." This is what I hear every day. Sure it takes a lot of practice and training to get the verbal skills right, but you'll spend less time with patients and get way more engagement and personal responsibility from the patients because they now understand, and this next thing is important, that it's THEIR problem and you're just their to help them solve it with treatment options. I've done this for two decades and have taught it for nearly as long and the changes in practices when they embrace this is monumental. So, where does clinical photography come in?

Having a well composed class I image on the wall next to your screen
 is a great way for patients to better recognize the need for treatment.

If you're asking people to spot things themselves and walk them down the path of self diagnosis quickly and effectively, one needs to have exceptional (not just decent) images. The patient needs to diagnose it themselves, so they need to see what's going on. You can even screen record the whole process with audio and send it home with the patient or parent if they need it for any reason. A better level of informed consent and understanding doesn't exist.

Don't worry, though. Exceptional images are one of the easiest things to learn, when taught properly. It just takes a ton of practice. If you put the same amount of time into training your team how to get images as you did other things you've delegated (hopefully a lot with good written policies and systems), you'll be awesome.

Sure, there are lots of good reasons to take clinical images, but once I started using digital co-diagnosis, I stopped sending home images, I stopped worrying about whether patients saw a stain or crack before treatment and I watched my case acceptance go up. More importantly, my patients commonly asked me (even more now that I'm an orthodontist and may be their 3rd opinion) "why has nobody else shown me this before?" I have no doubt that the other offices showed images and gave treatment options, but once you make the shift to exceptional images and digital co-diagnosis, you'll stop looking for other ways to communicate with you patients and spend more time on effective internal marketing, which I'll save for another time. ;)

Remember, think like a clinician when you diagnose, but NOT when you present options.

All the best, and remember, you can always reach me at doc@KriegerOrthodontics.com.

Wishing you an amazing, joyous and profitable 2017!!!