Communication Tips for Different Patient Types

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine Benes notices a negative comment on her medical chart and then proceeds to go to incredible lengths to have the comments removed? She becomes increasingly disruptive and each new doctor adds another line in the chart about how ‘difficult’ she is which of course incites more disruptive behaviour. It’s a very funny episode but dealing with problematic patient behaviour is no laughing matter.

Video clip from the Seinfeld episode

Any dental practitioner will tell you that patients are the lifeblood of their dental clinic, but many will also share stories about their most ‘difficult’ encounters with patients – from the overly demanding, to the downright confused.

Patients are essential to any dental practice and while they pay the bills and also allow you to grow your practice, patient management can be a challenge. I’ve put together a list of some of the most common types of ‘difficult’ patient behaviour and ways that you and your staff can deal with situations as they arise.

patientinpain

1. The Confused Patient

Confused patients can be frustrating to deal with because they simply don’t know what they want or can’t make a decision. They often have only half the information or will come with false assumptions. These patients will ask lots of questions but are unlikely to commit to your service regardless of the quality.

How to Help

Confused patients can take a lot of your time and energy so it’s wise to pinpoint their highest priority problem and figure out how you can best help them. When you’re able to uncover to the actual issue at hand it makes offering the right service easier.

Remind the patient that they came to you for a reason and you are here to help. Ensure that they understand the treatment options presented and the consequences of not going ahead with treatment. Conclude by telling the patient that you respect their decision whatever it may turn out to be.

2. The Non-compliant Patient

Much has been written on the topic of patient compliance in dentistry and patients who refuse to follow a dental healthcare provider’s recommendations can be a real challenge to work with. While on one hand they are simply refusing to listen (which makes treating them over the long haul much more difficult), on the other hand dental clinicians may also start to unfairly blame themselves for not communicating effectively.

What Are Your Options?

Compassion goes a long way, and if you frame the problem as a desire on the part of your dental practice to help this patient, they will likely come around. But if a patient’s non-compliance is interfering with your job as a dental health care provider it may be time to ask them to look for another practice.

This option should definitely be considered a last resort but it might be necessary if patients are simply not following your oral health recommendations.

3. The Ill-tempered Patient

Patients with chronic oral health problems can often bring an irritable, frustrated or even abusive demeanour when they come in for treatments. They want to blame someone for their ongoing issues so they might lash out. No one wants to pay for pain, and for some, this is how they view their trip to the dentist’s chair.

How Your Dental Team Can Help Fix the Problem

The best thing oral healthcare providers can do is empathize with the patient while reminding them that treatment will eventually make things more tolerable. A steady, measured and compassionate tone will help calm irate patients. Remain aware of how far vocal tone and facial expressions go toward calming negative emotions in others.

4. The Demanding Patient

It’s important not to confuse a demanding patient with an ill-tempered or abusive one. A demanding patient is simply frustrated because the reality of the situation differs from what they imagined. Demanding patients will often threaten to leave (some never to return!) and this threat must be taken seriously. Demanding patients might be insecure, or simply expect too much of others.

Go the Extra Mile

When it comes to demanding patients, do your best to accommodate their needs and expectations. To some of your staff it might feel as if you’re caving into unfair demands but there is a way to give in without giving too much up. Ask the patient whether there is something they are expecting from their experience that has not been accommodated. Then you have something to work with – you can either meet the expectation or suggest an alternative solution.

Patience pays off here and it’s important not to respond to emotional outbursts. Say no if you have to but make sure these patients feel you’ve done your best.

Anticipate and Alleviate Negative Attitudes

Ignoring disruptive or disrespectful behaviour can derail any practice – grinding everything to a halt. But if your staff understands how to address inappropriate behaviour, before it escalates, most patients will calm down and even apologize for their outbursts. I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs and it bears repeating that customer service training will help your staff handle a range of situations – with professionalism.

Creating a sense of calm at every stage of the visit also helps. You can invest in improving your waiting room. When patients check in they should be greeted by a friendly member of the staff. If you’re behind schedule make sure someone acknowledges this fact. It never hurts to apologize for minor inconveniences. Finally, at the end of the visit, thank them for their business while setting their next appointment.

While you’ll never have to deal with Elaine Benes, if you encounter any of the above ‘difficult’ patient behaviours, use ABELDent’s tips to help keep your practice running smoothly.

Fostering Positive Behaviour at Your Dental Practice

In my line of work, I am often asked about the challenges of running a dental practice. Dentistry is a wonderful profession, but let’s face it – no field is without its unique set of hurdles. Running a successful practice is part art, part science and part skill. But no matter how gifted or skilled a dentist might be, his or her practice is made up of people.

And so, one of the biggest challenges of running a great practice is understanding those people, and their behaviours.

ABELDent’s dental software program has easy to use features such as our appointment scheduler and automated patient communication. Although they help keep dental schedules organized and patients informed, keeping your staff effective and motivated requires strategies and actions that elicit the responses you desire.

Workplace behaviour is a growing topic of conversation in dentistry, and every year there is more and more emphasis on implementing positive change. Changing behaviour patterns in any workplace can be tough, but with the right attitude, even the most pervasive negative behaviours can be curbed.

Let’s take a look at 3 common behaviour issues common to many dental clinics – and then let’s consider how to turn the problems around.

1. Smartphone Use

You might be frustrated when your staff are constantly distracted by their smartphones, and wondering how to fix the issue. Smartphones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but there are ways to curb use in the office.

One solution is to limit use to certain windows of time, such as on breaks or during lunch. You might also put a ban on cellphones in meetings, at reception, in restrooms or in high-traffic areas. Whatever limitations you impose, a written policy that employees have to read and sign is the best way to curb the problem, as that leaves little room for misinterpretation.

When your employees follow these rules, acknowledge their improvement. Identifying and broadcasting good news is a great way to foster positive change. While disciplinary action may be required if someone repeatedly refuses to put their phone away, rewarding staff who do comply will go a long way. A great reward might be to reduce the smartphone limitations over time, allowing for more liberal use once the staff has shown initial discipline.

2. Negative Attitudes

This one can’t always be helped – some people just have bad days. The important thing to reinforce to your staff is that negativity is contagious, and that a bad attitude will affect everyone, including the patients.

When you notice positive workplace behaviour, it’s important to recognize, acknowledge, and even reward it. On the other hand, when you see undesirable behaviour, be sure to address it right away. If someone’s bad mood is having a noticeable effect, it’s important to deal with and confront this type of negative workplace behaviour head-on.

Don’t be afraid to sympathize with the person if they are dealing with a real problem – but also don’t be afraid to remind them to be professional and leave their personal issues at home.

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3. Lazy Management

If you want your staff to be engaged and to offer the best possible patient experience, you need to ensure that your management team is equally engaged. Helping improve workplace behaviour takes effort, and your management team will need to take an active role.

It’s imperative that your staff feel empowered to succeed. Providing top down feedback is great, but when management actually takes the time to coach their staff, there is much more room for improvement. Management should set distinct goals and deliverables and then acknowledge and reward staff as they reach various benchmarks, not simply when the larger goal is reached.

Also, consider scheduling customer service training from a third party that has experience working with dental offices. They can provide an objective validation of the customer experience you wish to achieve as well as offer the expertise necessary for successful implementation of your office policies. The training sessions can also serve as a great team building experience and ensure everyone is on the same page.

When your staff feel that management wants them to succeed, they will embrace the pride and satisfaction that often comes along with facing new and exciting challenges.

Be Patient

I completely understand the desire to see positive change happen quickly. But in reality, as research shows, you’re more likely to see success when you take it slow. Set smaller benchmarks to success, and reward staff that make a real effort.

Behavioural theory suggests that there are a variety of stages associated with embracing change, so make sure that your employees have the time they need to go through the stages. This kind of focus and care will result in positive, permanent changes that will be noticeable to everyone at your practice.

If you are clear about the issues while also allowing your employees the time to slowly turn it around, you might be surprised at how many people will fall into the new system. It just takes time.

It’s been said that positive verbal praise and feedback stimulate the same parts of the brain that receiving money stimulates. When positive behaviour is cultivated and shared, it’s more likely to be repeated – and it doesn’t cost a penny!

How Web-based Dental Solutions Protect Against Cyberscamming

Dental clinicians and practitioners face a unique set of challenges day in and day out, from ensuring patient satisfaction to staying on top of technological advancements in the field to maintaining a steady income stream in a increasingly competitive environment.

But a dental practice also faces the hurdle of keeping its staff and patients connected, which exposes them to an altogether different struggle – that of keeping data secure in an age when scammers are working harder than ever to compromise patient information.

The protection and organization of data is a serious matter, and so I’m starting the new year by bringing you up to speed on the rise of phishing and other cyberscamming attempts.

cyberscam protection

Below, I discuss recent scams both in and out of the field of dentistry, and provide some tactics to help you defend yourself.

Gone Phishing

Phishing is the act of impersonating legitimate companies through email or phone contact in an attempt to lure staff or consumers themselves into divulging private, personal information.

Emails will often ask for login credentials and other personal info to solve a vague but urgent problem. Scammers go to great lengths to make the request seem legitimate, which works to build a false sense of security in victims.

The CRA Scam

Consider the recent CRA scam that has already affected 4,000 victims who have lost more than $15 million. This scam takes the form of a call from someone claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, who then threatens victims with arrest for owing back taxes. The scammers will often demand payment in the form of gift cards, cybercurrency, wire transfers or other unorthodox methods of payment.

Up the Amazon Without a Paddle

Meanwhile, the RCMP are issuing warnings about a phishing scam targeting Amazon customers. The police warn about emails sent to customers regarding purchases they never made, complete with receipts of purchase and shipping addresses. By clicking on the ‘details’ button, emails direct victims to a fake Amazon login page that then attempts to steal credit card information.

Cyberscams with Teeth

The dental industry is not impervious to these threats, either. In 2015, an Oregon dental services company reported that a hacker had breached their system, accessing the information of more than 151,000 patients. The pinched data included patient names, social security numbers, phone numbers and addresses, as well as birth dates.

The hackers leveraged malware in order to obtain an employee’s username and password which gave them access to the company’s membership database.

protection from hackers

Protect Yourself

I can hear you asking, how do I protect myself against these threats? If you want to keep your personal or financial records safe from scammers, this simple but effective list of considerations will really help keep your info safe from compromise.

  • Don’t reply to any email that requests you to enter your personal or financial information
  • Check the hyperlink by hovering your mouse over the link to verify the address. If the email claims to be coming from Aeroplan, verify that the site is indeed Aeroplan.com or .ca
  • Contact your bank or financial institution immediately if the email or phone call claims that you owe money. Banks compile info on these scams and reporting the incident can help bring down the predators
  • Get in touch with Equifax or TransUnion to place a fraud alert on your name if you suspect you might be the victim of attempted identity theft

If you run a dental practice, and you’re worried about keeping your financial records, patient files, schedules, and other documents secure, it pays to partner with a company that understands the nuances of cybercrime.

Servers aren’t always secure, and your digital dental office staff are only human and are not invulnerable to sophisticated phishing scams, so it pays to add another layer of defence. Services are available that offer safe encryption of your data and advanced cloud storage. Data is protected from attacks but can quickly be restored with up to date backups if necessary.

If you feel that you are the target of a cyberscam, take your time and remember to be cautious. When dealing with any company, including a government agency like the CRA, you have the right to request written information, ask for a call back number, and demand time to think over the situation. A real company will be trying to solve a problem, and will show patience. Scammers around the world are all the same – they will want to part you from your money as soon as possible.

And if you run a dental practice, remember that safe, reliable web based dental solutions are available and becoming increasingly the platform of choice.