It is customary for dentists and team members to want -and to work at establishing- conflict-free “friendships” with patients. Unfortunately in many cases this can lead to a rather superficial, intimacy-avoidant mutual-exchange-of-favors, a “we will provide you with services without making you emotionally uncomfortable, while you give us your money in exchange” arrangement.
But if we truly care about our patient’s well-being AND we have a health-centered mission, this simply can not be the case, as too many patients will linger in a state of instability or decline if their needs are not confronted.
To strategically confront another regarding their important health care needs is to exercise leadership -and often positional- power. Exercising this power is nothing less than an attempt to influence the course of events in another person’s life. And to do so without a moral and truly helping mindset is unethical, unprofessional, and a violation of trust.
When in a situation where we want to positively influence another person, it is important to keep in mind that there are several ways that this can be accomplished beyond the use of direct confrontation or criticism*, which often create the opposite of the desired outcome -rejection- as the patient often is unable to conceptualize the value or relevance of what has been proposed.
Four of the most useful methods of positive influence in dentistry are:
1. Humble inquiry
4. Creation of experience.
In top level patient-centered practices, the first three forms of influence are often combined to create the fourth, “creation of experience” – which is what Bob Barkley’s co-discovery is all about.
More specifically, Co-discovery is about the CREATION OF AN OPTIMAL LEARNING EXPERIENCE which is in essence a gentle form of self-confrontation. This happens as Co-discovery shifts the Care Team member out of the authoritarian “expert” role and into a role of a facilitator and co-therapist WITH the patient.
This approach defuses the natural tendency toward defensiveness by empowering the patient and moves them toward ownership and better decision-making. It also tends to self-motivate them to change the status quo in the direction of improved health, functioning, and esthetics.
Integration of a highly effective co-discovery method is essential to the success of a patient and health-centered practice and particularly for those practitioners who do not have a steady flow of well-referred prospective restorative patients.
Paul A Henny, DDS
* It is important to note that many patients experience a “review of findings” or “case presentation” as an uncomfortable and critical confrontation regarding how they have been taking care of their mouth. And this often generates a natural defensive posture which short-circuits learning and shuts down creative problem-solving.