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Top Five Tips To Deal With Difficult Patients as Dental Receptionist

By: Kailash Srinivasan

Published On: November 1, 2019

A visit to a dentist’s office is usually nerve-wracking for most of us. The thought of sitting in the dentist’s chair with our mouth open, for what may seem like hours, is not something anyone looks forward to. It brings anxiety and stress. In fact, dental anxiety toward the dentist and dental treatment is a medical condition. Of course, you need competent dentists, ones who can assuage our fears and anxiety, but what also makes a huge difference is the presence of a cheery, helpful dental receptionist.

The vital role dental receptionists play

We hear all about the importance of doctors, nurses, dentists in the medical profession, but we rarely pay any attention to the individuals who are on the front lines of health care: receptionists. Receptionists, including those working in the dental offices and clinics, are the first person a patient meets. They hold the key to the relationship between patients and doctors.

Their responsibilities extend much beyond just administrative duties. The demands of the job change from minute to minute and are often unpredictable. But a significant portion of their work involves managing the emotions of patients and families, which may be rewarding, though, on some days, it can be draining. Take dental receptionists out of the equation and dentists may feel like they are going into a boxing ring without a mouthguard. Therefore, dental receptionists are a vital part of patient care.

Individuals who have the right qualification, having done a dental receptionist course, learn all the tips and techniques to deal with difficult patients at work. Here are our top five tips for defusing a challenging situation:

Tip 1
If you’ve identified an unhappy patient, remain calm. Mentally tell yourself to stay calm, no matter how rude the patient may get. It’s hard to stay neutral when someone is shouting and yelling at you, but it’s crucial to be polite and reasonable to this person. Most often, when the patient realizes that you're genuinely nice and kind, they may themselves calm down.

Hear the patient out, let them finish talking. Let the patient have their say – let them know that you are paying attention to them, a nod of the head, compassion, and an open body language lets them know you’re trying to be helpful and receptive. Without sounding patronizing, offer phrases like “I can see how that can be frustrating”, or “I understand what you’re going through,” and so on.

Tip 2
Be patient, but firm. It’s advisable to be friendly, but if the conversation gets out of the hand, you have every right to let the person know they are crossing a line. If someone is being unnecessarily aggressive or using foul language, you can warn them once or twice, telling them you can’t help them if they continue like this. When you stand your ground, some people may lose their nerve and modify their behaviour.

However, if it goes on and you are dealing with this on the telephone, you could perhaps tell them that you will call them back and check with your peers on the best course of action. If you feel that you are unable to deal with them, you can have someone else phone the person back. If they are at the clinic or hospital, and you feel you’re not in control of the situation, you can request another team member to take over. Remove yourself from the situation.

Tip 3
Never engage or get into an argument with the person in question. It only makes the matter worse. It’s also for your own safety and others. Sometimes patients forget that you’re only doing your job and that if the wait time to see the doctor is roughly two hours, you’re not keeping them waiting for your own pleasure. It’s just that several patients are waiting before this person. If they’re screaming and yelling, speak softly; stay cool-headed; if they come closer, move away a bit; if they say many things, you say very little. De-escalate by disengaging.

Tip 4
Try and draw the person away from the reception area or front desk, where other patients, including children, could be waiting. You don’t want them anxious. Maybe take them to a separate area. Usually, the one creating a scene likes an audience around them, don’t give them that satisfaction.

Tip 5
Those with the right education, such as a dental receptionist certificate, understand that empathy is critical in such situations. The person may have had a bad day or going through something personal. It certainly is no excuse for them to act rudely or say nasty things, but it allows you to imagine yourself in their shoes momentarily. What may be making this person angry? If you were in this situation instead of them, how would you want the issue to be resolved?

Patient care is a holistic process, and dental receptionists are a crucial part of that process. Not only do they deal with the emotions of the patients, but they also are responsible for the operation of the practice. Not everyone can become a dental receptionist. It takes someone special with the perfect aptitude and skills to be a good one.


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