Dentists: Are You Considering Your Patient’s Risk Tolerance?

January 31, 2022

At a glance:

  • The main takeaway: Dentists may be the experts on dental health care, but your patients are the experts on what they can tolerate – it’s time to factor patient risk tolerance into patient care.
  • Impact on your practice: Consulting patients on treatment plans instead of dictating can help achieve better patient outcomes, improve patient satisfaction, and grow a more thriving practice.
  • Next steps: Take your dental practice from good to great by understanding risk tolerance, both among your patients and within your practice.

Partner with a dental CPA that will take as much care with your practice as you do with your patients. Contact us today to learn more.

The full story:

We’ve talked about risk as it relates to practice management, but it’s time to think about risk from a new perspective: the patient. Part of being a great dentist is remembering that the patient in front of you is more than just a patient; they are a person with unique needs and concerns that extend far beyond their dental health.

All patients have different financial considerations, pain thresholds, time constraints, and other variables that impact their health-related decisions. While they look to you for your clinical recommendations, you should give equal weight to their individual risk tolerance.

Risk tolerance, from a patient’s perspective

All of life’s daily decisions are informed by our tolerance for risk. From choosing an insurance plan to deciding what’s for dinner, we base our choices on the level of risk we feel comfortable taking – usually through an unconscious and instantaneous cost-benefit analysis. Maybe choosing sushi for dinner is a no-brainer for some, but others just can’t surmount the possible risks of eating raw seafood (no matter how delicious it may be).

Dentists and practice owners navigate these risk-based decisions constantly as they assess treatment needs, make hiring decisions, and plan for retirement. It can be easy to forget that patients are navigating similar choices as well. When you present a patient with treatment plan options, they will weigh costs and benefits that encompass far more than dental health. Whereas the ‘benefit’ is simply a solution to their dental health problem, the ‘cost’ could encompass the literal financial cost, the time required to receive and heal from the procedure, or the pain caused by the procedure. Only the patient can determine whether these costs outweigh the benefits, and you should empower them to make that decision.

Patient risk tolerance in action

Putting this decision-making power in the patients’ hands can require a pretty significant shift in the way you think about patient care, but it can be just as empowering for the dentist as it is for the patient. This approach will allow you to advise your patients using your expertise while helping you both achieve the best possible outcome.

Here are three tips for implementing this new strategy in your practice:

  1. Contextualize the need – A dentist’s and a patient’s perception of ‘need’ can vary dramatically. For dentist, a need represents an opinion of the best course of treatment. For a patient, a ‘need’ is only where the benefits outweigh the costs.

Instead of communicating treatment plans to patients exclusively as needs, give the patient more information about the costs and benefits and let them assess their own need. For instance, if you’re discussing orthodontics with a patient, present all of the risks of not pursuing treatment, detail all of the associated costs, and explain the obtainable benefits. The patient’s risk tolerance will help them decide whether preventing periodontal disease is worth the financial cost and physical discomfort of braces.

  1. Let the patient decide what’s best – I included an important qualifier in my point above: a dentist’s perception of need is based on an opinion of the best treatment. Much like needs, determining what is best for a patient is subjective and should lend credence to the patient’s risk tolerance. A dentist cannot dictate what’s best for a patient without soliciting the patient’s opinion.

While your clinical opinion may be that a crown is the best option for preserving the natural tooth while lessening pain, some patients may prefer to extract the tooth and fully prevent additional pain or treatment at inconvenient times.

  1. Manage expectations – Successfully implementing these strategies is hugely reliant on skillful communication with patients. While it’s true that only the patient can truly determine what’s best for them, their ability to make that determination is also reliant on their dentist’s ability to clearly communicate the costs and benefits of each option.

Empower your patients to choose treatment options that align with their needs, but only present the most viable treatment options and clearly explain the full range of outcomes associated with each. This approach will increase the likelihood of patient satisfaction while also fulfilling your role as the dentist to mitigate the risks of bad outcomes.

The bottom line

Good dentistry is impossible without good patient care, and great dentists are constantly improving their strategies for treating patients. By involving patients more in the treatment decision-making process and considering their risk tolerance, you’re more likely to achieve better outcomes and higher satisfaction – and happier patients help grow a healthier practice

If you’re looking for other strategies to grow a practice, you need an advisor that’s equally considerate of your risk tolerance as you are of your patients’. Aprio’s National Dental Practice will work with you to identify your goals, understand your concerns, and develop a strategy that you can feel confident in. Take a step towards growth and contact us today.

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About the Author

Scotty Lee

Scotty Lee, CIA, CRMA, Senior Manager of Dental Services at Aprio, specializes in creating partnerships and identifying process improvements to strengthen organizational performance in dental practices. Scotty is a results-oriented, effective communicator who is passionate about client service and provides extensive experience in dental evaluations and accounting, financial analysis, internal audit, compliance, risk management and treasury operations.