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Consistent Persuasion: How to Use the Principle of Consistency to Get Your Dental Patients Better Care

Consistent Persuasion: How to Use the Principle of Consistency to Get Your Dental Patients Better Care
Dr. Christopher Phelps

Use Cialdini’s principle of persuasion to give your dental patients better care. Here are three easy ways to get started today.


Since I learned how to use the Cialdini Method of ethical persuasion, I’ve found a number of ways to apply his six principles of persuasion to give dental patients better care. At first glance, this may seem odd. Why should we have to persuade people to take care of their teeth?

The fact is, many people are forgetful, lazy, or just plain scared of dental care. They’ll smile and nod when they’re in the room with you, and then promptly forget or ignore what you said when they walk out. It’s not enough to tell your patients what they need to do to improve their health. You need to use the Principle of Consistency to make them participants in their own care plans.

The Principle of Consistency states that people want their public behavior to remain consistent over time. They want to keep their promises and commitments, especially if these were made publically. According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, when you encourage someone to make a small, voluntary, active commitment in public, they’re more likely to keep bigger commitments that fall along the same lines.

If you use this principle in your practice, you can reduce your number of no-show patients, have more patients make appointments, get patients to stick to a self-care plan, and persuade patients to accept necessary treatments, even when they’re frightened. Here are a few examples of the sort of little commitments that give dental patients better care in the long run:


Self-Service Appointment Postcards. Do you have patients who can’t schedule an appointment 6 months in advance? They probably ask you to call and remind them in 4-5 months. Instead of a call, try a reminder postcard. Have the patient address the card, write a short note, and stamp it. When you mail the postcard in a few months, they’ll receive a reminder of their small public commitment – a postcard in their own handwriting. The principle of consistency will kick in, and they’ll feel obligated to call and make an appointment, just as they’d said they would a few months before.

Treatment Plans. Make the patient an active participant in any treatment plan. Does he need to floss more? Don’t just floss for him, have him floss for you or a hygienist so that he can practice. Praise him for the job he does. Hand him a sticky note, and have him create a reminder to stick on his bathroom mirror at home. These small, public acts will set the stage for developing new, healthier habits once he’s home. Remember, the key is to make the small commitment an active one, rather than just a verbal one.


Reducing No-Shows. A well-run office depends on patients who arrive when scheduled. You can change your standard ‘reminder phone call’ to reduce late patients and no-shows. Instead of simply having staff remind them of the appointment time, get a small commitment. “Would you be able to call us if you’re running late or unable to come?” When the patient agrees, respond with “Ok, I’ve made a note on your chart that you’ll be here at 8, and that you’ll call us an hour ahead if you’re running late or unable to come.” Suddenly, the patient has made a public commitment. And since no one enjoys calling to cancel, that means he’ll show up on time barring a true emergency.


Take a close look at your own practice. Are there places where altering your patients’ behavior could provide them with better care?

What small changes can you make to help use the principle of consistency in your practice?

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