10 Things You Should Never Say To Dental Patients

A key part of good customer service for our patients is to always be genuine and talk to them from your heart. However, this approach will only help your office succeed in the long run if you are also making sure to establish guidelines for staff about what you can and cannot say to your patients. This way, the team can follow office policy while also having wiggle room to respond to patients in a genuine and heartfelt manner.

Think of this like a football or basketball game. As the team leader, you cannot tell your players the exact move to make at each and every moment. But you can give them some guidelines so they know where they should be on the court, what their goal is during any given play, and their role within the whole team to achieve the team’s ultimate goal… in this case, patient care.

Here is my top 10 list of things that should never be said to dental patients: 

The funny thing about this list is that many of these items are not even actual words or statements to avoid, but more in the arena of HOW we say things—“vibes” or “impressions” that patients should never hear, feel, or see from your team.

10. “That is expensive.”

Dentistry is not something most people are excited to get done or to pay for, but of course it is necessary and worth the cost.

However, if you have someone on your team that does not see this in the same light, they may end up reinforcing a patient’s reaction about it being expensive. If your team member does not see the value in what you do, they will be likely to agree with the patient that dental care is too expensive, hence killing your case acceptance—which of course hurts your bottom line and makes it difficult to sustain your practice over time.

9. Talking about another patient.

There are a lot of stressful times in the dental office, and often we have patients who are a bit more difficult to deal with. Though those times can be a challenge, it is important that your team understands their role in this process and focuses on caring for the person, not going behind their back to complain about them. There are actually two issues at play here. First, if a team member is talking negative about a patient and this is an accepted part of the office culture, it will negatively influence how the rest of team approaches patient privacy and respect for all patients. Second, if another patient hears an employee complaining or saying negative things, they will get a negative impression of your office and they may worry that the team members talk badly about them when they are not in earshot.

8. “You should get insurance.”

It is important that your team knows how to work with insurance and answer questions about insurance coverage, but if they lead people to it or seem to prioritize insurance as something your office values highly, your patients will then do the same thing. The end result is that you will be battling insurance all day long with both patients and team members.

7. Discussing fees over the phone.

You cannot diagnose over the phone, plain and simple. Therefore, team members should not give out fees over the phone, whenever it’s possible to avoid doing so, because honestly they don’t know whether the patient actually needs that procedure. The employee needs to understand that the best way to get patients the help they need for the tooth is to avoid price discussions and focus on getting them to come in for an evaluation or exam.

6. Saying mean things.

This should be a life lesson for everyone, not just dental team members. Avoid saying anything that sounds mean to anyone on the team and to any patient. Enough said!

5. Displaying negative nonverbal communication.

The rolling of the eyes, the non-excited tone, the sigh when answering a question… these all come across much stronger than what is said. It is important that your team members know that their verbal comments need to match their nonverbal communication, which speaks way louder than what is actually said.

4. Having a negative attitude.

When someone is not playing on the same team as the rest or has an attitude about anything, not only can the team feel it, but so can the patients. Everyone has a bad day once in a while but if one person is giving off a negative attitude on a regular basis, that is a big problem for not only the culture but also for the overall patient care.

3. Second-guessing the doctor.

Ultimately the doctor is not only the clinician in charge, but also the leader of the organization, so they should never be questioned in front of patients or other employees. Open door communication is important, but “open door” still means a private conversation, not public. There needs to be an expectation of respecting each other in public as well as a process set up for team members to question or learn from each other in appropriate private spaces.

2. Gossiping.

This is something that is prevalent in dental offices, and it needs to stop. Gossiping sucks the energy from the environment, and patients can feel it. The mantra all employees should remember is “Gossip to you will gossip about you.” Don’t get involved, don’t let patients see it, and make sure your office culture does not allow it.

1. “No” or “Um.”

Everything that is said to patients should be confident, secure, and without saying “No” or starting with “Um….” This means when a patient asks, “Do I really need this?” everyone on the team is confident and knows that the answer cannot include the words “No – you can wait” or any hesitation in answering such as “Um—I think you should do it.” You are health care providers, and your team needs to confidently respond to your patients in such a way that they believe you. Ultimately, this work is about taking care of our patients, not only clinically but also verbally, so they know they are making the right decision with the right office.

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Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.