Do we give patients what they want or what they need?

May 18, 2015

Further to the blog on ‘core practice’ here’s a few thoughts prompted by the famous American dentist Painless Parker. He was vilified for his shameless publicity seeking and advertising by an ultra-conservative dental community, even in the early part of the 20th Century. However, he grew his practice by combining what people wanted with what they really needed. Good trick if you can do it.

There have been numerous studies which show us that what people really want is pain relief, followed by pain-free treatment, provided by a sympathetic and caring team in clean safe surroundings. They want the pain to go first, then good basic treatment. After that we can concentrate on prevention and eventually more sophisticated work. ‘Painless’ Parker helped to direct a shift into this direction and Parker’s insistence on high-quality dental care and his relentless showmanship played a big part of this shift.

We all want to be heroes and give people the perfect smile, but at the same time we need to hear the deeper needs of patients. Ideally we need to give people what they want first and then ask about the smile. A recent BBC article on the history of this showed that Parker brought good dentistry to the masses for the first time.

History lesson

From the article, we learn that: ‘despite his undoubted dental proficiency, his maverick showmanship saw him endlessly dismissed as a quack and a charlatan. He regularly fought in the courts against limits on advertising, his legitimacy and “ethics”, but also against overcharging and monopolies – Parker always kept his prices affordable for poor clients.’ That is a good lesson to learn – don’t disenfranchise your potential future!

He didn’t spend money on posh surgeries, but he did accept and take on new technology. His patients deserved the best possible. Once he got people in through the door and solved their immediate painful problem he then offered mouthwashes, toothpastes and powders for brushing at home. A good retail marketer. He even started screening educational films about oral care in his office. Interested crowds were then invited to come next door for a free check-up, of course.

The point was, he gave people what they want first. Pain relief. Good quality basic care and Prevention next. This made him one of the most commercially successful dentists – ever!

John Shapter
John Shapter

Dental Specialist

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