In the post entitled, Making an OMS Practice More Efficient by Teamwork-Enabling Technology, we outlined five methods to improve productivity and efficiency in your OMS practice. One of the methods is improved patient communication. A patient’s first interaction with the office usually is by phone, and that call is your one and only chance to make a good first impression. Here, we explain why communication is critical, and we suggest ways you can improve patient and staff communication in your practice.
Good communication skills are important in any healthcare setting. In the course of a day in a dental office communication typically occurs between dentists, hygienists, patients, family members, insurance company representatives, salespeople and other dental offices. The conveyance of correct information means better better working relationships and reduced patient/family anxiety. Ineffective communication can lead to misunderstandings and poor patient outcomes.
Crucial to good verbal communication is the ability to listen with comprehension, or “active listening.” Active listening is attentive listening while someone else speaks, coupled with paraphrasing to “reflect back” to the speaker what s/he said while withholding reaction, judgment and/or advice. This ensures the listener hears the message as the speaker intended, especially where there are cultural differences between the speaker and the listener. Active listening requires the full concentration and attention of the listener. Besides reflecting back and a neutral/non-judgmental posture, other characteristics include patience during periods of silence, verbal and non-verbal cues such as smiling, eye contact, leaning in, asking questions, seeking clarification, summarizing, and being mindful of non-verbal cues from the speaker. Active listening is the opposite of passive hearing, and it is key to a successful conversation where the goal is to understand another person’s point of view and respond with empathy.
Another type of listening is critical listening. The goal of critical listening is to evaluate and share an opinion with the speaker. Both of these conversation types will occur in a dental office. Bad habits such as being stuck in your own head (i.e., being focused on thoughts rather than the current conversation or situation), disrespecting the speaker with words, actions or body language, feigning attention, failing to make eye contact, rushing the speaker, being distracted, interrupting, asking about unimportant details, too much focus on details and missing the big picture, and daydreaming will derail conversations of either type.
Of course, there is plenty of written communication in a dental practice too, like emails, reports, evaluations, instant messages, texts, formal letters, contracts, and training materials, among others. Clear written messaging is important because writing is not accompanied with nonverbal cues that allow you to communicate emotions and intentions usually. Further, in a business context, a written communication should not contain sarcasm; not only because the tone is inappropriate, but also because the narrative may be misinterpreted. Written communication should evidence correct grammar and punctuation as well, and avoid shortened words (e.g.,”u” for “you”) and emojis. One benefit of written communication over verbal communication is that the writer can review and revise the message before sending it. Conversely, a disadvantage is that a person receiving written communication does not have additional context and meaning from a speaker’s body language.
Current technology actually can assist dental practices with effective communication. As we highlighted in the first post in this series, the MaxilloSoft software solution provides patient intake and consent forms, automated appointment reminders, fee estimates, insurance forms, online bill pay, and dental referral letters. Improvement in the frequency, timing, accuracy of these forms of written communication improve the patient experience and lead to referrals. Other features like the system’s workflows and EMR (Electronic Medical Record) capability ensures that each employee in the dental practice documents treatments and timelines thoroughly, which are critical elements for malpractice defense. Online treatment plan templates eliminate paper charts, simplify patient reporting, and allow information sharing with other staff as needed. The software’s customizable shortcuts “remember” user preferences for each case type, shortening the time to prepare a treatment plan. With e-prescriptions and short-cuts for commonly prescribed medications and dosages, scripts can be sent to pharmacies instantly, circumventing many errors and phone calls that result from illegible scripts. Images stored in WinOMS can be viewed on a handheld MaxilloSoft tablet. The software also captures real-time vital signs directly from a vitals monitor, and incomplete tasks appear on the surgeon’s task list automatically.
By combining technology to enhance and improve written communication with training around effective verbal communication, your dental practice can run like a well-oiled machine. This is more critical than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff and patients need to know what to expect as offices reopen. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.