Patients and dentists sometimes see things. Often, what is important to dentists is not important to patients, and vice versa. While dentists may often have a blind spot when it comes to seeing things from a patient’s viewpoint, it’s important for both patient and doctor to have an open mind. Depending on what you are looking for, this is the start of a relationship, not a one-time transaction.
Dentists often have a similar blind spot in the ability to communicate with patients. When our particular “philosophy of care” doesn’t mesh with the patient’s current philosophy or desires, we have to determine how we’re going to approach each patient. Or, do we have the same approach for everyone?
Communication is key to any relationship. So why do many healthcare professionals have poor communication skills with their patients? There is no one answer to this question, but we all struggle communicating with others sometimes.
Let’s put it out there; dentists are often starting at a disadvantage in the relationship. While many people say they love to have their teeth cleaned, there aren’t too many who really want a crown.
Some patients who want and need care have a preconceived notion, maybe fear based on a past experience, or the idea that they just can’t afford it. It’s more difficult to build a trusting relationship when there are these types of barriers.
I think the biggest issue providers have with communication is time. Dentists run on a schedule and dentistry is a business. So, it’s up to the individual dentist, or someone else for a corporation-owned practice, to set the time parameters. Dentists don’t get paid to talk like lawyers; the drill needs to be spinning.
A dentist may be (or may think they are) the best tooth-fixer in the world, but communication skills are more important. For a dentist to sit down with a patient to discuss your personal situation, the importance and relevance to getting good dental care and its significance to systemic health takes time. It takes time for a dentist to work through your particular barrier to getting a healthier mouth. The time allotted for this in an office depends on philosophy of patient care and how the business is run.
Meaningful communication skills come more easily to some than others. For most of us, it seems it is always a work in progress. I’m sure you can think of numerous past experiences of poor communication and realize later how the situation could have been better handled. I can think of many. Our way of communicating is often engrained in us. If we wish to improve our communication skills we (dentists and everyone) must first become aware or more, mindful, of these interactions. Only then can we work on improving this skill. That takes time, and time is again a factor.
Dentists need to recognize, fully understand, and be able to manage the different barriers that prevent patients from getting the care they deserve. Every patient has their own issues, their own concerns, their own personality, and their own true or false notions about dentists and dentistry.
Relationships take time to develop. Talk with your dentist about anything that is holding you back from improving your dental health. These conversations build trust. Trust is the key factor in the dentist-patient relationship.
….to be continued