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Tips to Avoiding Pitfalls While Communicating with Patients

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By: Joseph Weber, Student Doctor, SDM UNLV

An essential part of a successful relationship with our patients is good, direct communication. A young dental student may find this to be a challenge. I have seen and encountered these problems because I failed to give enough information: saying too much or not asking enough questions. I learned quickly that our patients are constantly forming opinions of us. They don’t always see the end result of our work and don’t know how to critique it, but they do listen and are judging us by what we say. 

In this post I will be going over a few tips on how to avoid some of the most common mistakes while communicating with patients.

Give Concise Pre-Appointment Information

Miscommunications in dentistry can be disastrous. A patient comes into dental school and has a full mouth extraction before she can receive her dentures, and you failed to mention that she might need alveoloplasty ahead of time. Mid-procedure, you have to stop and explain. This places more financial burden on the patient, might create confusion, and increases her anxiety. What if this patient thought she was receiving an immediate denture and was planning for conventional methods? These are classic mistakes of communication failure.[1]

I like to begin every appointment seated in front of the patient with a quick discussion, like a pregame rundown of all the events, expectations, risks, and benefits of that day’s procedures. For example, “Today we are going to start your bridge; you will be here for nearly two hours, and when we are finished you will have a nice provisional that we will exchange at your next visit with a beautiful, custom-made bridge, while also starting on your last crown. Do you have any questions?”

This reinforces the purpose of the day’s visit, reducing anxiety by answering any questions that the patient may have.[2] The patient knows exactly what is going to be done.

Provide Good Post-Care Information

After the appointment and before I dismiss the patient, I like to review what was done. “Today we prepared your teeth for a bridge. The treatment went splendid. I am really pleased with the results. We prepared your teeth for the bridge, took an impression, and made a provisional. The provisional is cemented in place, the impression was perfect. I don’t expect you to have any discomfort. Next visit we will be seating your custom, laboratory-made bridge. Do you have any questions?” The pre- or postoperative conversation instills confidence in the patient, renews informed consent, eases his or her anxiety, and reinforces our relationship with our patients.

These techniques have helped me in many situations, and if implemented well can do the same for you.

 

References

Devore PR. Communicating effectively with patients: the warm-up and the wrap-up. J Am Dent Assoc. 2002 Jul;133(7):873.

Glick M. Placebo and its evil twin, nocebo. J Am Dent Assoc. 2016 Apr;147(4):227-228.