Communicating with patients
In Dentistry, we are under a spotlight. We need to communicate with patients, carers and the public, explaining treatment options, procedures, risks in non-technical language. We need to inspire confidence, build rapport, and engender behaviour change.
We need to do this while respecting the patient’s confidentiality, dignity and privacy, and dealing with anxiety, passive-aggressive behaviour, anger, misunderstanding, dissatisfaction and confusion. We need to understand that what we simply tell patients will probably not stick, so we need reinforcement strategies and excellent records of every conversation.
We have to help our patients make the best decisions for them, respecting their autonomy to make what we would think to be bad decisions. We must communicate effectively with those who do not speak our language, or have special needs, including deafness and blindness.
We need to be able to listen, and be sensitive to the verbal and non-verbal cues we receive and give out, whether face-to-face, by email and letter, on the phone or with a video call. We even sometimes have to prove (to the CQC, GDC, Lawyers) that we have done our best to communicate with our patients even when things do not work out.
The majority of patient complaints are due to communication issues.
Communicating with colleagues
We must know how to refer patients to experts for advice, special tests, or treatments, concisely presenting the relevant facts. We delegate treatments, or have them delegated to us, within the practice between staff with different scopes of practice, where explicitly clear exchange of information is needed .
We may need to give presentations, run practice training sessions and team events, manage a CQC inspection or a staff complaint, or politely resist a salesman. We need to motivate each other, and inspire teamwork and confidence.
We do this using a mixture of verbal and non-verbal communication.
What we do in terms of communication alone is extraordinary. You may know of some “great communicators”, who give inspiring lectures on TV. We do far more than that.
All the communication-related items mentioned here are to be found in the UK Dental Foundation Training syllabus, and need to be achieved by dentists within a year of leaving university.