Improving patient communication: Intraoral cameras

George Bernard Shaw once said that “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. We can all fall into the trap of believing that we have put a point across, yet patient communication remains one of the most significant factors in case acceptance (Soolari et al, 2015).

While the medical language we are trained in is not the same language that our patients speak, the use of visual aids can completely transform a patient consult, and case acceptance.


The role of pictures in patient communication; a study

In December 2006, Peter S. Houts published a peer-reviewed study in Patient Education & Counselling which assessed the role of pictures in improving patient communication. The combined use of images linked to written or spoken text, when compared to text alone, showed a marked increase in attention to, and recall of health education information. The study also found that the image + text combination significantly improved comprehension, especially when used to demonstrate cause and effect, and spatial relationships. As a final outcome, the use of pictures also showed a positive impact upon the adherence to health instructions.


Managing patient attention, comprehension, recall & adherence

Let’s look at these 4 words through the lens of a patient consult, as well as phases in your patient treatment journey.

First up, attention. Ask any sales person, advertising specialist or public speaker and they’ll tell you the same thing; without attention, you’re dead in the water. Attention is the foundation upon which communication is built, and making sure that you have it (without coming across like a high-school teacher) is critical.

Next up is comprehension; the crux of George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote. Without comprehension, communication has failed. Comprehension is especially important in our arena, given the imbalance of knowledge in a patient consult; the dentist has all the knowledge, and patients can feel embarrassed to admit that they don’t fully understand. One of the tenets of case acceptance is patient trust and, without comprehending your diagnosis, how can a patient ever trust the treatment plan you propose?

Finally, recall and adherence. Both play a major role in the long-term satisfaction and success of the patient’s treatment path, especially in long and complex cases. Again, salespeople can be a great source of insight here. Ask a salesperson how they feel about buyer's remorse, and you’ll quickly see why; people who lose sight of why they bought something quickly become dissatisfied with having bought it. They often project this upon the person who sold to them, and quickly start to feel as though “that nasty salesperson convinced me to buy something I didn’t need”. Buyer’s remorse is the undoing of satisfaction.


Closing the door on buyer's remorse 

In the case of a long treatment plan, enabling the patient to easy recall the problem they set out to solve can close the door on buyer’s remorse, and safeguard their perception of you, as the person who sold them the treatment plan. Recall also goes hand in hand with adherence. If the patient needs to stick to new habits or routines, being able to recall their original state can increase their likelihood of staying on track and maintaining a positive perception of their experience with you.

In each and all of these stages, patients are painting an evolving impression of you and your practice. Underdeliver on one of these areas, and you’ll notice it in your patient feedback and public reviews. But get it right, and you’ll have a patient base that brings you more patients.


Intraoral Cameras as a communication tool

If Peter S. Houts was able to demonstrate the impact of visual-assisted communication in 2006 when digital photography was still in its infancy, imagine what can be achieved with today’s technology.

One of the standout items in the patient-communication toolkit is the Intraoral camera (IOC). IOCs like the Carestream CS 1500 let you capture high-resolution, and sharp-focused, photography and video to you form a diagnosis, and to take your patient through it.


Three quick tips on using Intraoral Cameras

  1. Give patients a full tour
    Use images and video to orientate your patient to their own mouth. Start off by showing your patients the good bits and things they’re doing well, then raise any problem areas. We know that images can aid spatial understanding, so use your IOC to explain cause and effect

  2. Co-diagnose with your patient
    Nothing aids comprehension like reaching your own conclusion. So, rather than just showing and telling your patient what is happening, engage them in conversation. Ask them questions that help them reach the same diagnosis as you. Rather than asking “can you see this?”, ask “what do you see here?

  3. Get a big screen
    Size does matter in this instance. Delivering a walk-through on a large screen makes it easy for patients to see details, and reach their own understanding. One consideration though; if you are using a big screen, make sure your camera shoots in high resolution. The Carestream CS 1200 and CS 1500 are ideal for this.


Where to next?

If you are already using an intraoral camera, we hope this article will help you get the best out of it. If you’re not yet on the IOC bandwagon and would like to know more, why not contact our team to book a demonstration? The only thing better than seeing an intraoral camera in action is to be the person steering it!