A trip to the dentist can be frustrating for a variety of reasons: the cost, a lost personal or sick day, the feeling of being worried about your health and well-being. These concerns are difficult enough, but they can be exacerbated by poor or nonexistent patient communication. Improving communication between a health care provider and a patient can have fantastic results for both customer satisfaction and patient compliance. Achieving smooth dentist-patient communication may be a difficult, but following some simple advice can make the process much easier.
Dentist and Patient Communication: An Overview
A 2005 study on dentist-patient communication conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles found that “the dentist’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively is one of the underlying factors assuring a successful dentist-patient relationship and the key to all outcomes of the dental practice.” Improving your patient communication can have a positive impact on the patient’s well-being. Establishing a clear dialogue with a patient can be difficult, but the benefits are substantial enough to require the effort.
Everyone has a different personality and reacts to pain or hardship in his or her own way. On top of that, people have various education levels and understandings of medicine, biology, and anatomy. While it can be tempting for dentists to answer any question with certainty, a patient could become upset or frustrated if the outcome is dramatically different from the prediction. If you don’t know the answer to a question, then simply say, “I don’t know.”
Remember: Patients Are Not Dental Professionals
To receive a DDS or DMD degree, years are spent learning and practicing unique specialties among health care professionals. This result is gaining a level of comfort with advanced technical terms that is not usually shared by members of the general public. When speaking with patients or their families, dentists should communicate as plainly as possible. Telling a patient he or she has periodontitis can unnecessarily frighten the patient, when he or she only has gum disease. Discussing diagnosis or treatment options in simple terms encourages patient involvement.
The Qualified Professional Has the Final Word
While the vast majority of patients will be grateful for clear communication, others will take advantage. Some people interpret explanation or dialogue as negotiation. In some instances, the input from a patient or his or her family is vital to making a treatment decision. In other cases, a dentist’s decision is final. There are always second opinions, and communicate that option, but health care professionals have a duty to rely on their training and experience in making the ultimate determination about health care. If an open channel of communication is leading to unproductive areas, feel free to reiterate your recommendation and end the conversation. A dentist has a duty to serve his or her patients but not at the expense of their careers or livelihoods.
Precious Thompson, DDS