Belle DuCharme

CDPMA, Dental Training Consultant

Creating Positive Communication with Difficult Patients

The telephone is still the most important tool for communication in the  dental practice. The person on the phone creates the first impression of the business and often the deciding factor in making an appointment for a potential new patient.   Patient relationships can be challenged by official policy or between the patient and a staff member. A system with scripting on how to diffuse problematic events is excellent customer service and a necessary tool for your practice.

Every caller is different as is each issue they want to be resolved.  Skilled customer service representatives design their response based on the verbal behavior of the patient or customer.  Challenging calls can stem from the usual billing and insurance issues but can also be about treatment options, post-operative care and encounters between the patient and other staff members.   Identifying the caller’s behavior will help give an idea as to how to manage the call. The basic behavior patterns are as follows.

Angry- “I want an apology for the way I was treated.”

Demanding“I want my way, or I am going elsewhere.”

Analytical- “Why are you doing the treatment that way and what are the statistics for success, etc.?”

Talkative“I need you to listen to  me because I am paying for your time and I just love to talk.”

The Angry Caller can be challenging to even the most experienced business person.  Separating yourself and not going on the defensive are essential skills to learn.  It is recommended to do the following:

Listen and let the caller vent and explain their concern in detail without interruption.  Take notes of the critical points of their complaints and remain calm. Don’t get caught up in their emotions and become neutral in response.  Agree to investigate their concerns and decide upon a time to return the call.

Relate by giving a generalized apology such as “Mr. Smith, I understand how you must feel, and will find a solution to this as soon as possible.”  You want to soothe and dilute the situation.

Make an offer.  Offer a solution that will solve the patient’s problem.  The situation may require some research or conferring with management so you can tell the patient.  “Mr. Smith,  I will need to look into this situation and get back to you.  Will you be available at 3:00 P.M. tomorrow?”  Be available to make this call or you will have an angrier patient.

The Demanding Patients like to take control of the conversation in a  few sentences. They are direct and clear in what they want and may catch the usually very accommodating front desk person off guard with their brusk behavior and demands for action.  With these types listen and take notes. Relate by reassuring the patient that immediate action will be taken.

Design a good plan to solve the problem with a timeline and a personal follow-through.  Often times this patient is confused about treatment and needs the attention of the dentist to explain the procedure more clearly.

The Analytical Caller wants detailed  accuracy and wants every step of the treatment explained so that they can digest it and find the value in it.  If time was not given to the patient during diagnosis and planning of therapy, you could expect them to call later.  Often the clinical assistant or Treatment Coordinator can answer questions and concerns without involving the dentist. 

The Talkative Caller wants attention, and they are usually friendly and enjoyable to speak to for a while. Often the business person is too busy to have a long conversation.  Try the following:

Ask closed questions like “Francie, would you like to schedule an appointment?”

Don’t pause too long between sentences so that the caller cannot interrupt and take control of the conversation.

Be friendly but provide a minimal response to questions and divert the caller to the objective to secure an appointment or to answer their question. 

Giving patients what they want in communication can be fun and challenging at the same time.  All discussions should be planned to be as positive as possible with the patient being taken care of ethically and kindly.


Dental Billing Tips and News for Pros; Edition #138


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