Dentistry is the Easy Part: Can You Manage Patients and Your Team?

The best dental practices are not only a result of excellent dental care. Good practices are built on quality relationships between the dentist and patients, the patients and the team, and the dentist and their team.

The modern practice is a fast-paced, busy environment with a fair amount of stress involved. It can be very difficult for dentists to focus on relationship building. However, if you can master communication with patients and team members, you’ll have a strong and thriving practice to show for it.

Step One: Get Your Team On Board
What does your team value nearly as much as a paycheck? A sense of belonging. As the leader of your practice, it’s important to let your team know how important they are to its success. Once your team members feel more like stakeholders and less like subordinates, they’ll likely be much more personally invested in your success.

Be Openly Passionate About Your Career
It’s a cliché you’ve heard a thousand times, but leading by example is a great way to keep your team motivated and inspired. Make your passion for dentistry and helping others contagious. Letting your team members see how much you enjoy the field of dentistry and helping others will inspire them to do their best work.

Address the Tough Conflicts
Personality conflicts are always bound to pop up here and there. As an effective leader, it is your responsibility to address these issues. That could mean getting to the bottom of a conflict between two team members, or addressing a dispute between yourself and another teammate. In the case that you have a perpetually toxic employee who’s bringing down the whole crew, you may have to make the tough decision to let someone go.

Step Two: Managing the Patients

When Flaky Patients Cost You Money
Every dentist has come across this problem: you come in early to accommodate a patient who needs a 7 am appointment so that person can make it to work on time. You’ve sacrificed your personal time to do the right thing and help a patient in need.

Then, the patient ends up being a no-show without so much as a courtesy phone call. At this point, you have a decision to make.

  • Bill the patient for his or her missed appointment
  • Let it slide, but explain to the patient that you will have to charge them next time

I would recommend a warning for the first offense, especially if it is a relationship you’d like to maintain. However, don’t be afraid to let someone know exactly how it impacts your practice when they simply decide to blow off an appointment.

If the patient is routinely late for appointments or fails to show up, send them a bill, along with an explanation.

Combative Patients
Dealing with combative patients can make the job far more exhausting than it needs to be. One recent study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows there are a few common triggers that could set off aggressive patients.

  • Patients who are not current on their payments
  • Those who come late or skip appointments
  • Those who are told they cannot be helped immediately
  • Patients with drug or alcohol issues

Even patients who don’t normally have temperament issues may become hostile when a serious dental issue is threatening their health and causing pain. If the patient is nervous or fearful about what will be involved with their treatment, they may also lose control and become angry.

No matter what the cause, aggressive behavior by patients puts undue stress on the entire staff and can be extremely stressful to deal with. There’s also the danger that someone’s aggression could turn physical and create a safety hazard.

Pay Attention to the Warning Signs
A patient about to lose his or her cool will often display certain warning signs. Knowing these signs can help you act to reduce the tension and potentially avoid a conflict.

Body Language: patients who are on the verge of becoming hostile tend to tense up and might clench their fists or tighten up the jaw. You may also notice a patient start fidgeting.

Behavioral Changes: Changes in behavior may also become apparent when a patient starts getting angry. Perhaps someone who is more talkative will become quiet all of a sudden, raising their voice when they do speak.

How to Diffuse the Situation
It can be hard to keep your cool when a patient becomes angry and emotional, but doing just that has proven to be the most effective method.

Empathy is the great diffuser when it comes to patient conflict. Even when a patient is asking loaded, confrontational questions, it is important to remain calm.

  • Let the patient finish his or her rant
  • Calmly address their concerns, addressing the patient by name
  • Contact the authorities if you think the confrontation could turn physical

In most cases, you’ll be able to diffuse the situation and make the patient understand why a particular treatment may be necessary, or why a certain procedure costs as much as it does.

Good communication with your team and patients can set your practice up for success and keep potentially tense situations from getting out of hand. You’ll find caring for patients becomes much easier when everyone is on board.


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