33: Communication

Chapter 33 Communication

Section A Patient Communication

Howard S. Glazer

Verbal Communications

Telephone Communications

The telephone is often the first chance that the dental office has to interact with the patient. The telephone can be considered the first line of offense. Patients typically call the office first rather than walk in. When the patient calls, the dental office has about 20 to 40 seconds to make the individual feel warm, welcome, and comfortable and to sense that this is the best possible office to satisfy his or her needs.

How one answers the telephone creates the initial impression for the patient or prospective patient. The person answering the telephone should maintain a very upbeat voice that indicates that the person is smiling and happy to have received this call (Figure 33-2). An appropriate beginning is to say:

This conveys to the patient a warm, sincere welcome and indicates this is the right office.

Once the initial introduction or salutation has been made, an information-gathering process begins. One of the first pieces of information to collect from a caller is the person’s name. Once the telephone respondent has the caller’s name, he or she should begin to use that name in the rest of the conversation with that individual. The exchange may be as follows:

The key thing is to personalize one’s communication by using the caller’s name.

The rule of thumb is typically that if the caller is perceived to be older than the respondent, always use “Mr,” “Mrs,” “Ms,” “Dr,” or whatever the formal title of that person is. If the caller is perceived to be younger, it is probably acceptable to use the caller’s first name. When the respondent is not sure, the first thing to ask after ascertaining the caller’s name is “May I call you [caller’s first name]?”

Once the respondent has identified the caller and used his or her name, it is necessary to try to find out why the caller has contacted the office. Often when a patient or prospective patient calls the office, he or she will volunteer the reason for the call up front. If the caller says, “I broke a crown,” the next obligation is to gather information from him or her relative to what the immediate need is. The first and foremost question to ask is “Are you in pain?” As healthcare providers who truly care about patients, dental professionals need to ascertain whether or not the patient is in pain and how quickly the patient can come into the office to address that problem. The caller may also report that a tooth is sensitive when something hot or cold is eaten. Regardless of the symptoms reported, the dental office respondent encapsulates the caller’s reason in a response and assures the caller that the situation should not be a problem and that the office can make him or her very comfortable. The call should end with a reassurance, such as “We look forward to seeing you in our office so that we can help you.”

If the patient is not in pain, a series of questions can be asked to gather more information. This includes asking when it was that the individual last saw the dentist. A new patient will never have seen the dentist but often will have been referred by a current patient. People tend to refer people similar to themselves. Type A patients are referred by type As, type Bs by type Bs, and so on. If the referring patient has always been a good patient and someone who has received esthetic treatment, the respondent may have a sense of why this prospective patient has elected to call this office. Another way to find out that someone has chosen this office through a referral is to ask, “Who may we thank for referring you to our office?” This helps build a relationship with the prospective patient and sends the message that (1) this office likes referrals and (2) it thanks those who refer others.

The initial conversation should also include a request for the caller’s phone number. This ensures that should the call be dropped the respondent can immediately call back.

When the caller says he or she is in pain, the easiest way to determine whether the situation is an emergency is to ask the caller, “How soon can you be here?” If the caller cannot come until after work is finished for the day, it may not be an emergency. If the caller can come in right away, this is likely an emergency and every effort should be made to accommodate the caller and relieve the pain. After that, a more formal appointment can be made during which a more complete treatment can be developed.

Once it has been determined that the caller will be coming to the office, the respondent should ask whether the patient has ever been told to take medication before seeing the dentist. This does not mean taking a full medical history, but an affirmative answer to the simple question alerts the dental office that premedication is required.

Other information to discuss includes transportation information, parking availability, and directions. All of this information helps the dental office to better handle potential or established patients who call in.

The attitude of the person answering the phone is essential to good telephone communication. If the caller perceives that the person on the other end of the phone line is not paying attention, is not receptive to what the caller is saying, or sounds grumpy or bothered by the call, he or she forms a negative opinion of the rest of the office. It is important to greet each caller with a positive attitude in a very upbeat voice that conveys a sincere desire to help the caller and make a connection. The caller then knows this is the best possible office to help resolve his or her dental problem.

The person answering the telephone should be able to engage the caller in conversation relative to the caller’s desires. For example, the prospective patient might be concerned about the color of his or her teeth, and the dental team member answering the phone should be well versed and comfortable in discussing the treatments available to whiten and brighten teeth. If the patient is concerned about cracked or chipped teeth, the respondent should be able to discuss in broad terms treatment options such as porcelain veneers or crowns. Keep in mind, though, that a diagnosis cannot and should not be made over the phone. The person answering the phone should be clear that he or she is speaking in generalities and it is only the doctor who can fully assess the patient’s needs when he or she visits. The patient will then be informed of possible treatments before any services are performed.

Establishing Rapport

In establishing rapport with the patient, the acronym FORM is useful. This stands for family, occupation, recreation, and motivation. Using that acronym provides points of conversation that will help you build a relationship with the patient.

Most people like to talk about their family, making this topic an easy way to begin a conversation, as follows:

Another subject is occupation or work. This should be evident on the initial questionnaire from the patient. Noting the patient’s occupation, a conversation could begin as follows:

People generally like to talk about what they do, so this subject may be a good conversation starter.

People also enjoy talking about their recreation, or what they like to do for fun. The dental assistant could ask the patient what he or she likes to do in their spare time. It is important to be able to discuss subjects like this with the patient.

The last question to typically ask a patient deals with motivation, in particular the motivation pertaining to the dental visit. A sample would be:

With this approach, the dentist has indicated that although the office staff members know why the patient is here, they are seeking further information about what the patient would like to accomplish in this visit.

Jan 3, 2015 | Posted by in Esthetic Dentristry | Comments Off on 33: Communication
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