How To Listen Effectively To Your Dental Patients
Of all the skills that a great dentist possesses, perhaps the most important is the ability to effectively listen to patients.
Why is effective listening so important, and how can you be successful at it?
Why Listening Matters
In an online article entitled “My Dentist Doesn’t Listen to Me,” Dr. William Halligan, a dentist who specializes in treating Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction and lectures regularly to local dental societies and study clubs in California, says:
“It rather amazes me how often a new patient says, ‘My dentist doesn’t listen to me!’ Last week may have been a record with six or seven new patients in a row sitting in my consult room and complaining, ‘My dentist just doesn’t listen!’
Dr. Halligan goes on to describe that many of these patients felt that their dentists' unwillingness to listen resulted in incorrect diagnosis or mistakes during treatment. Most of these patients' complaints were later confirmed to be true. Many of these patients eventually switched dentists.
"So I just want to ask," Dr. Halligan says, "Are you listening?”
According to the National Commission on Allied Health Education, “Although technological advances, growth, and specialization in health-care delivery have led to great improvements in the treatment of disease and disability, they have also resulted in the impersonalization of health care services.”
In other words, dental professionals’ reliance on technology has improved disease diagnosis and treatment, but lessened the human connection.
If you were asked, "Do you want to improve the care of your patients, increase patient satisfaction levels, reduce the risk of malpractice claims, reduce patient anxiety, and increase patient satisfaction?" your answer would probably be a loud "Yes!" Listening effectively to patients is one of the best ways you can accomplish all those things.
When you communicate clearly with your patient, that patient is likely to be more compliant, more likely to refer friends to your practice, and more satisfied with their care. Satisfied patients stick around, while dissatisfied and disillusioned patients eventually find another dentist.
A 2012 online article from Inside Dental Assisting explains:
“Doctors who take the time to get to know their patients’ oral issues, clarify their recommendations, and make an effort to build the relationship right from the start have higher case acceptance and fewer issues related to miscommunication—including lawsuits.”
Listening to Patients the Right Way
So how can you be successful in really listening to your patients? Here are 2 main approaches.
First, Larry Barker, a recognized expert on listening, teaches that there are 4 stages of listening:
Keep these 4 components in mind during all your interactions with your patients. Are you paying attention to your patient's words, or are you thinking about the appointment in the next chair?
Are you trying to understand the feelings behind a patient's story, or are you already forming a diagnosis?
Are you restating your patient's words to ensure you understand and remember, or are you already giving directions for treatment?
Second, Mary Osborne, a dental hygienist and a moderator on the In a Spirit of Caring dental professional support website, advocates an approach for dentists called “Staying in the Question.” This process involves:
- Avoiding assumptions
- Remaining curious, patient, and sincerely interested about what your patient is saying
- Listening for the meaning and feelings behind the facts that your patient provides
- Beginning with open-ended questions to find out your patient’s values and real concerns
- Transitioning to direct questions about your patient’s symptoms or complaints
- Being mindful of your patient’s perspectives, values, and previous experiences with dental procedures
- Periodically restating what you've heard from your patient, to make certain you're interpreting the information correctly
- Striving to develop empathy for your patients
Reevaluate How You Listen
Tae a step back and look at your listening skills with a fresh eye. Was their anything mentioned in this article that you can improve on?
That improvement will likely lead to better patient relationships, fewer patient complaints, more accurate diagnoses, and more peace of mind for both you and your patients.