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A dental student's guide to managing patient care

25 May 2022

Written by James Peart, University of the West Indies (Mona Campus), Jamaica

One of the most daunting feelings a person can experience is the loss of control and understanding over what happens to their body. With the advent and progression of technology, an increase in lawsuits, and the rising standards of patient care, it is imperative for Dental Practitioners to provide the best care in the most comprehensive format for their patients.

The practice of dentistry has long since evolved from the simple, “say ‘Ahhh’", treat the condition, and send the patient home. Today, it's important to speak with your patient, explain possible outcomes, address concerns, and create an understanding. Here are a few tips in doing this.

1. Pay attention

Paying attention is one of the most important things a Healthcare Provider can do. One of the most valuable aspects of paying attention is active listening. If done correctly, there is an immeasurable amount of information you can gain from the patient. If a patient expressed recent anxiety, increased appetite, and absent menstruation for three months, you may come to the conclusion they were pregnant, but with continued listening about their brittle nails and hand tremors, it may stir your recollection to also consider the possibility of Hyperthyroidism.

Additionally, you may notice that a patient's body language remains unchanged when given an ordinarily painful nasopalatine injection demonstrating a higher pain threshold. This may help in understanding why a patient's radiographic examination showing numerous deep cavities with pulpal involvement barely noticed these issues. Non-verbal movements provide as much information as speech does, including body language, facial expressions, and reactions.

2. Be flexible to adjusting

Most of the time, what you say is just as important as how you say it. An essential part of successful communication is both parties understanding each other. Numerous studies show that a person’s pitch, tone, accent, and stresses can allude to the emotion behind what is being said. Some individuals have the knack of adjusting these factors to emphasise their emotion or the words they are saying. On the other hand, some people are often betrayed in speech by their own voice, in that they can come across as less confident/knowledgeable or may reveal some insecurities.

Another way of improving communication is through the use of simple and clear language. After years of training and practice, it's easy to get caught up speaking in jargon or using scientific terms. Unfortunately, more than half your patients will not be able to follow the conversation. Each patient that sits in your chair has a different background, educational level, and set of experiences. Likewise, it’s important to take this into consideration and adapt accordingly.

3. A reassuring atmosphere

We live in a complicated world with complicated problems, complicated solutions, and by no surprise, we ourselves are complicated beings. By building good rapport with your patients, you create open communication. When a patient feels comfortable in sharing their thoughts, or feel their concerns are validated, they are more likely to return. That patient will trust their dentist, share things they may have not before, be compliant in treatment, and have a better outcome. In addition, it is crucial to use a method convenient to both you and your patient to stay in touch, whether that’s through follow-up calls, emails, or texts to see if their ailment has improved – be flexible in the way that the patient can contact you.

4. Time is ticking

The reality of the situation is that our lives can be very busy, whether that’s from lectures, lab hours, or patient care, making every moment that much more important. There are multiple new and creative ways to convey large amounts of information in shorter periods of time. Whether it’s from a practised routine of specifically chosen words in a specific sequence, utilising graphics and videos to explain difficult cases, or even by using analogies and relating perplexing phenomenons to simple and familiar everyday scenarios. This skill comes with practice, and although you're seeking to use your time efficiently, you should ensure that discussions aren't fast-forwarded, nor should the patient be rushed. It can be counterproductive to everything you've said and the progress of the treatment plan.

These are just a few tips from a fourth year dental student in patient care management. I hope you find them helpful.

   James Peart guide to managing patient care article

Dental Protection member James Peart.