More phone calls, less complaints
For those of us old enough to remember them, the phrase ‘it’s good to talk’ will forever be associated with the TV adverts of Bob Hoskins. If you’re young enough not to have seen those hugely popular BT ads in the 90s, don’t worry – the slogan is all you really need to know for the purpose of this blog.
A third of complaints are caused by communication problems
The point is, good communication is an essential part of being a good dentist. Providing quality care isn’t just about your ability to brilliantly place an implant or do a superb composite.
Obviously, no one’s saying that’s not important. But effectively communicating with patients is also part and parcel of providing the best care and treatment that you can, and shouldn’t be underestimated.
In case you doubt that, consider the fact that communication problems are at the root of a third of complaints notified to the Dental Defence Union. Communicating well with patients helps to build trust and rapport, and provide a better overall service beyond what you can do for them clinically.
In turn, this creates strong relationships and a loyal patient base, which will not only make your working life easier but also minimise both the risk of complaints, and the potential for them to escalate beyond the practice or into litigation.
Good communication extends beyond the appointment
Communication shouldn’t be restricted to when you are chairside. It needs to be present throughout the whole patient journey which begins before they even attend the practice and after treatment has ended.
However, while many of us dentists understand the need for effective communication with patients while they’re physically in the practice and having treatment, it can be easy to forget or neglect the need to do this before and afterwards (not least because of time constraints). As I mentioned above, the patient journey begins before they walk through the practice doors. So, your communication with them needs to start then.
Call patients before they attend
A simple phone call to your patient before they arrive, is all it takes. During that call you can find out more about them and demonstrate how interested you are in them and what they want to achieve by visiting your practice.
For example, if it’s a new patient, you can talk about how they feel about their smile, what they’re looking for from a practice, or if they have any specific issues with their dental health. Or if it’s an existing patient, you can ask about any changes in their health since the last time they attended, if they are still happy with their smile etc.
And when I say ‘you’, this doesn’t necessarily mean you as the dentist need to make every single one of these calls. This is something that could be delegated to another member of the practice team – as long as they pass the information onto the clinician before the appointment.
Follow up after they leave
Similarly, it’s important to follow up with your patients after they leave the practice. You could do this via email, but a phone call gives it that extra special personal touch.
Depending on the type of treatment, you might want to follow up with the patient anyway. But even if this isn’t the case, a call to check they were happy with how everything went, that they haven’t had any issues since the appointment etc., will show that you care.
It’s especially useful to do a follow-up call if there was a slight issue with the patient’s visit. For example, if they had to wait longer than expected for their appointment. A call just to explain and apologise, and thank them for their patience will go a long way to dampening any bad feelings.
Minimise the risk of complaints and their escalation
These types of phone call can make a real difference to the connection you make with your patients. It will show that you genuinely care for them, not just their teeth, on a human level. Patients who feel that way, will be much less likely to make a complaint.
Or if they do feel disgruntled, despite your best efforts, they will be more likely to bring it up directly to the practice (maybe even during the follow-up call) rather than going to an external authority.
And while no one wants to get a complaint, if there’s a choice between receiving it directly or the patient going to a third party, the former is always more preferable. At least in that scenario you can deal with it locally and nip it in the bud before it escalates to anything further.
So, remember, it’s good to talk – especially with your patients.