3: Patient interaction: engendering trust and confidence

Chapter 3

Patient interaction: engendering trust and confidence

Gail Vernon


The aim of this chapter is to encourage the dental team to be aware of the importance and implications of interaction with the patient.


After reading this chapter, readers should have a greater understanding of how to ensure that the way they interact with patients is both positive and professional.


Treat people as you would like to be treated

This maxim is central to effective patient interaction. You know how you like to be treated when you are the patient. You like to be treated in a courteous manner as an individual. You know when someone’s attitude towards you is negative and discourteous. It is the same for patients.

The principle of customer service – the ability to supply the customer’s wants and needs constantly and consistently – underpins effective patient-centred care. This is important in dentistry as the patient is not always able to assess the standard of clinical work; typically patients can only measure what they can see, feel and hear.

Service is everybody’s responsibility in the dental team. To customers, your service attitude is as important as your knowledge and experience. This means managing both the procedures and the customer’s experience.


There are two forms of communication: non-verbal and verbal.

Verbal communication

The following statement has been attributed to several political figures and reflects the issue of what actually makes a good verbal communicator (Fig 3-1):


Fig 3-1 Verbal and non-verbal communication.

‘I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.’

The key features of good verbal communication include:

  • clarity and logic in the way thoughts are presented

  • making space for a reply

  • using vocabulary and language appropriate for the listener

  • good vocal qualities

  • asking for feedback on the effectiveness of the message.

Paralinguistic communication – the use of manner of speaking to communicate particular meanings – is a multifactoral aspect of good communication. Paralinguistic communication spans:

  • tone : the tone of voice and variation in tone helps to convey information

  • volume: different emotions are characterised by changes in volume

  • pitch: high pitch is often associated with anger or excitement; low pitch may convey, amongst other attitudes, uncertainty and disinterest

  • rate: too fast a speech is often associated with anger; dominance is signalled by slowing down of speech

  • ‘conversation oil’: phrases and vocalisations, for example ‘mm-hmm’, and ‘I see’, which fill pauses and gaps in conversations and tend to encourage continuation.

The speed, loudness, tone, timbre and articulation of the spoken voice, coupled with facial expressions and gestures, can be confusing if not misleading to the patient. Inflection can give unintended impressions of aggression, frustration, rudeness or lack of interest. At all times, members of the dental team should strive to communicate in a caring, professional manner that engenders trust and confidence. However, as indicated above, it is not just inflection that leads to effective patient interaction. There are many, varied non-verbal communication methods used across the cultures of the world, with different emphasis and interpretations being placed upon certain postures, signs and gestures. What is entirely acceptable and normal in one culture can be grossly offensive in another. An understanding of these differences is critical t/>

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Jan 4, 2015 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on 3: Patient interaction: engendering trust and confidence
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