Difficult Dental Patient Situations At The Front Office
Difficult dental patient situations are no fun. But in our dental office day, we do experience them. Especially those of us who sit on the front line. Yes, the dental front office is most often the hot seat. This is where all the fun can happen. And we must be ready. And understand that we are in the people business. We must also keep in mind that many people do not like dentistry.
There are a number of reasons people don’t like dentistry. So just the thought of it does create stress and anxiety for many patients. Even just the sounds and smells of dentistry can be difficult for some. I’ve had patients ask me how I can listen to “that noise all day”? Or even “how can you stand the smell?” Neither of which I could hear or smell anymore. I guess I had grown used to it. So much so that one day when I arrived home from work I was surprised to hear my one of two young children say, “Wow, Mom! You smell like the dentist!”.
Our Job Is To Help in Difficult Dental Patient Situations
So let’s remember our comfort is not their comfort. And part of our job is to help our patients with their discomfort. It just goes with the territory. And our dental patients may call the office or show up for an appointment with a higher level of anxiety than we know. They can be worried about an injection or pain. It’s possible that the time factor is an issue for them. And maybe their day isn’t going according to schedule or they have to rush back to work or to pick up a child. It’s also possible that the patient is stressed about the cost or worried the dentist will find an area of their mouth that needs attention. And that means time and/or money that they just don’t have.
Keep in mind there are also stress factors that have nothing to do with dentistry. Patients have full lives outside of the dental office. And sometimes you can even see stress when a patient walks in the door. The weight of the world seems to be on their shoulders. And you have no idea what is happening in that person’s world. I’ve been there too. And managed to get myself to an appointment when my mind was totally wrapped up in something else. We need reminders that we are in a position to either help our dental patient or to possibly just push them over the edge.
Difficult Dental Patient Situations That Have Nothing To Do With Us
Have you ever had one of those days? When it seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong? And every step forward sent you back three more? Sure you have! Who hasn’t? Well, guess what?! Your dental patients have those days too. And sometimes you just happen to land right there in the middle of it all.
Many times, when we as humans get caught up in our emotions, we don’t even know how we sound? And your clearly agitated dental patient may not realize how they are coming off either. So it’s up to us at the front desk to help them catch their breath. Especially if they arrive for their appointment and you can see or sense something isn’t right. Here’s where you get to be the star!
Be Prepared & Be The Star
Remember when I said earlier that we must be prepared. Well, a huge piece of preparation is to watch for that thing you prepare for. And being in the people business, we watch for opportunities with our patients to care for them emotionally. Now, this is HUGE! This isn’t a place to dabble. Invest yourself full on in this. And you might just find this is the most fun part of your job at the dental front office.
Let’s imagine your patient has arrived. They are 5 minutes late and cranky. And let’s say your patient’s name is Tom. Whatever is bugging Tom has nothing to do with you, right? Wrong! It may be that you personally didn’t cause his grief. But you can definitely try to give him a reason to smile. And it starts with a simple smile. Pause. Smile. And let Tom know you are glad to see him. Be sure to use the “we” term. We certainly don’t want Tom to take this the wrong way. “Hi Tom. (smile) We are so glad to see you today. Could I get you some water?”. A simple extension of kindness goes a long way.
Now let’s say Tom is checking out. And he has a pretty extensive treatment plan. You can see that this could be a difficult conversation for you to have with Tom. How can you help Tom be more comfortable? The answer is go above and beyond his expectations. Whatever that looks like for you is what you need to do. Let Tom know that you have some information for him and would like to sit with him to answer any questions he might have. And tone is everything. Try not to feed off Tom’s emotional state. Rather, use your stable and confident smile to assure him. Don’t underestimate the power of this.
Difficult Dental Patient Situations Involving Anger
Anger is an emotion that can be very scary. And sometimes the hard part is finding a resolution that works for everyone. The only way to get to the solution is to first identify the problem. And the only way to get to the problem is to listen. It’s so important to listen well. And listen carefully. Listen without defending anyone and without interruption. Allow your patient all the time they need to say whatever they need to say. Although, if this comes through in a phone call, you may need to call your patient back when it’s a better time for you.
Once your patient has said all they want to say, ask one more question. But be sure to start with a “Thank you”. “Thank you, Tom. We so appreciate that you have shared this with us today. “How can we make this better for you?” or “What can we do?” Or something similar that suits your personality. The idea here is to give your patient the ability to share with you exactly what they need. Not that you can give them everything they ask for. But you at least want to know the outcome they are reaching for. And to give the patient the opportunity to be fully heard.
Be Careful With “I’m Sorry”
The automatic response we often have when someone is upset is to say, “I’m sorry.”. We tend to over use this. Often because we just don’t know what else to say. And we don’t want to be uncomfortable. Nor do we want anyone else to suffer. This is the one thing we know to say. But it’s important to know when to use this and when to avoid these words.
At the dental front desk, we can apologize for an appointment mix up. When a patient is upset about an error in their appointment. Or there is a misunderstanding on something like this, that’s a great time to apologize. Especially if you personally made the mistake. And we all can make a mistake. However, we can find a better feeling when we show our gratitude more than an apology! For example, ” Thank you for your understanding.” or “Thank you for your patience in this” are great alternatives!
Listen More Than Speaking
Should a patient have a complaint or issue with dentistry, it’s best to say as little as possible. I would follow all the other steps. Listen well and allow your patient to share whatever is on their mind. It can be hard. But it will help. Then ask what you can do to help or what your patient would like you to help with. Be someone they see as a friend. Someone who really wants to help them. Because you do. And maybe the next step is to simply let them know you will need to involve the dentist in the conversation.
Difficult dental patient situations can be less difficult at the front office. Be prepared. Watch for opportunities to help. Smile. Extend simple acts of kindness. Listen and listen well. Ask what you can do. Then, go above and beyond everyone’s expectations. And have fun!
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