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Why Patients Say the Dreaded Four Words: “I’ll think about it”

Edited and updated on October 15, 2020.

Depending on the type of practice you run, you probably see about 15 patients every day. That’s 15 conversations about next steps and potential treatment options; which means 15 opportunities for you (or your front desk coordinator) to hear those four words: “I’ll think about it”.

At first, it can sound encouraging. They are going to think about it and then hopefully they will call back and say, “book me in!”. Sometimes this very scenario does happen. Some patients really do need to go away and speak to their partner or take some time to consider the pros and cons of the options they’ve been given so they can make a decision.

But only sometimes.

If I was to be really bold, I would say that “I’ll think about it” is a form of what we call ‘polite evasion’. In other words, it is a less uncomfortable way of saying “no thanks”. I am that bold, but for now, let’s just assume that at the very least it means that the patient can’t (or isn’t ready to) make a decision right now.

It is important and relevant to explore why any patient is not able (or willing) to take action and make a decision on a treatment option that you believe is in their best interests. Generally, it is because of one (or a combination) of the following reasons:

  • The Problem: They don’t own the problem or the consequences of that problem, so they’re not yet ready to consider any solutions.
  • The Solution: They know they have a problem, they’re just not yet clear about the right solution.
  • The Relationship: They don’t trust you (yet).

If the issue is The Problem, the missing link may have been the manner or level of education that was delivered by the dentist. Most patients don’t have a sufficient level of concern that existing conditions (which are often not painful) will usually get worse. In other words, they don’t think there is a problem unless there feel pain.

If the issue is The Solution, it may just mean that the way the options were presented was not ideal. For any given oral health condition, there may be several options. If those options are not explained in a logical, strategic manner, the patient is left confused and overwhelmed. As a result, they are left being unable to make an informed choice.

Finally, there’s The Relationship. Even if the patient owns the problem and understands the solutions, if there is an absence of trust, they won’t be inclined to make a choice. It is far less confronting to say, “I’ll think about it” than it is to say “I don’t trust you” or “you’re trying to push me into treatment that I don’t think I need”. A patient who truly trusts you will feel confident to say “no thanks” to optimal treatment. As long as they want to see you again, all is not lost.

The next time you hear a patient say “I’ll think about it”, consider it an opportunity to keep developing your communication and relationship-building skills. If you are lucky enough to see the patient again, you have a chance to build more trust and rapport. Furthermore, you have a chance to educate them in a different way, raising their awareness of and concern for the damaging results of the existing conditions.

Sitting on the fence is the uncomfortable part – help your patients to make an informed YES or an informed NO, and everyone will feel more at ease.



Find out why good patient communication is so important here. 

Find out more about Primespeak here.

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