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.

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