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Patient Management

in Business and Dentistry

Patient Management

Theesan Vedan studied at the University of The Western Cape in January 2013 and has since taken up a position as a military dentist for the South African Defence.

'Another happy patient'

Patient management is perhaps the greatest practice builder and will expand your practice more than a new CAD-CAM machine. Basic principles as well as a genuine sense of empathy go a long way in ensuring greater patient co-operation and a greater deal of subsequent word of mouth referrals. This article highlights easy-to-implement ideas to improve patient satisfaction.

A senior lecturer told me in my final year that dentistry is '49 per cent procedural technique and 51 per cent patient management'. His comment stuck with me, and as I am gaining more practical experience, I have begun to see the truth behind his words.

We as dentists often tend to focus on the final product, putting much time and effort into developing our technical skills, equipment and materials. What we sometimes fail to realise is that we are also strongly involved in the service industry. Patients don't often know the difference between a perfectly anatomical restorative build up and one that could have perhaps used more detail to the cuspal inclines. What they do remember, however, is the level of service that they received and whether they were greeted by a smile.

These following points will give you some idea on how to put this theory into place:

  • Meet your patient at the reception. Always greet them with a smile. Walk them into your cubicle, whilst asking them 'How are you?'  I feel that this calms some of the dental anxiety and the patient starts to feel that you truly care about their wellbeing.
  • Rather phrase your initial enquiry as, 'How can we help you, today?' rather than 'What is wrong?'- The latter having negative connotations.
  • Let the patient do most of the talking. Keep your questions open ended- requiring more than just a yes or no response. This not only benefits the patient, but also yourself- as you gain more insight into the general and dental attitudes of patients in your patient pool. Patients appreciate practitioners who genuinely listen to their problems.
  • Always offer empathic responses. When addressing patients concerns, even if the outlook is poor, try to end positively. For example, 'I am sorry madam, but unfortunately because of the position of the tooth I am afraid that I will taking a great risk in extracting it, but the good news is that we can refer you to an oral surgeon who has much experience in these cases and he will gladly assist you.'
  • Proper injection techniques. Refine your dental injection technique, as this is one of the most important gauges that patients will rate your treatment. Remember when patients walk out, they tend to say things like 'the filling went well, but the injection was so sore'. I personally don't have any fancy vibrating syringes or the like, but I have spent time researching techniques that assist me in pain control and distractions when injecting. I hope to write an article, soon, on the topic of painless dental injections.
  • Offer your patient a blanket. I grab a few blankets from the wards and offer them to patients at the start of treatment. It gives them a feeling of security and comfort.
  • Ask your patient if they would like a glass of water, during intervals (such as waiting for the anaesthetic to kick in). The simple gesture goes a long way and patients tend to appreciate your offering.
  • Try not to talk to your patients with your mask on. It is a little intimidating to talk to someone who looks like 'Sub-Zero' from 'Mortal Kombat'. A human face is always more comforting. Remove your mask when greeting the patient and upon dismissing the patient.
  • Call up patients after difficult or invasive procedures. A simple courtesy call lingers in the minds of patients and you become the dentist, who really cares.

Patient management techniques are something that is not really stressed at dental school and is something that one tends to pick up along the way. It is easy for us dentists to sometime forget the human side to dentistry- that our work is much more than fixing broken teeth. Always remember the 49%- 51% balance. Listen to your patients and truly understand their needs, and improve your skills in patient management.

Theesan Vedan

Dental Protection is the leading indemnity provider.
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