3 Types of Difficult Dental Patients and How to Deal With Them

August 9, 2018 Karen Axelton

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Every practice has them: difficult patients.  They’re the ones who try your patience, push your team’s buttons, and elicit an inward groan when you see their names on the schedule. But dealing with difficult patients is part of the job in a dental office, and if you follow some simple steps, they don’t have to be a headache.

Here are three common “types” of difficult dental patients you’re likely to encounter and tips for managing each of them.

Grumpy Gus

Gus arrives at your practice in a bad mood and is ready to take it out on everyone with whom he comes in contact. He complains about everything from the weather outside to the dental floss the hygienist uses to the angle of the chair. Is it even possible to make him happy?

How to handle Grumpy Gus:

For many people, just knowing they have a dental appointment that day is enough to put them in a bad mood. No one enjoys worrying about cavities or potentially going through a painful procedure. A negative attitude often stems from fear and feelings of loss of control associated with visiting the dentist. One study found nearly 60% of patients are anxious about seeing a dentist; some even have full-on dental phobia. Patients age 24 and older are more likely to fear the dentist because they’re more likely to have experienced painful dental procedures in the past.

For Grumpy Gus, the best solution is to ask questions and really listen to the answers. Paying attention to body language, such as clenched fists or tensed muscles during treatment, can also help you identify what's wrong. Encouraging Grumpy Gus to express himself might be the last thing you want to do, but it can reveal tooth pain, discomfort, concerns about costs, and other factors that you could easily address if you knew about them. (Learn more about personalizing your patient interactions.)

High-Maintenance Hannah

Hannah acts as if she's the only patient you have. She calls the office and demands appointments the same day (or the next day). When she comes in, she frets that the dentist doesn't spend enough time with her. She holds up the line in the waiting room asking endless questions about her bill or a recommended treatment. After every procedure, she comes back half a dozen times for adjustments.

How to handle High-Maintenance Hannah:

The best way to deal with Hannah is to overwhelm her with kindness. Treat her the way she wants to be treated. Always ask if she is comfortable during treatments and offer extras like a headset to listen to music or a blanket if your office is chilly. Knowing that this patient takes more time than the average, be sure to schedule adequate time for her appointments. Explain treatments and billing thoroughly and be patient. (Check out this article for more on building good relationships with patients.)

Treat Hannah like a queen, and she’s likely to become your biggest fan. When that happens, be sure to benefit by asking her to write an online review of your dental practice. Sure, you’re spending a little extra time with Hannah, but Lighthouse 360 saves you time by automatically collecting reviews from happy patients like her and posting them on popular review sites.

Flaky Frances

Frazzled Frances is constantly late for appointments—if she shows up at all. After throwing your schedule into disarray, she takes up even more time enumerating excuses for her tardiness, whether it's her crazy schedule or a traffic jam. When your staff tells Frances she owes a fee for missed appointments, she gets indignant. It’s not her fault!

How to handle Flaky Frances:

Lighthouse 360 can help even the busiest and most absent-minded patients keep their appointments. It automates appointment reminders and gives you the option to contact patients by email, text, voice call—or all three, if necessary. You'll get automated confirmations back from the patient, and can even text back and forth. (For instance, if Frances is running late, she can text your office to let you know.)

Lighthouse 360 keeps a record of your patient communications, so even if Frances pleads ignorance, you can prove she confirmed her appointment (and really does owe that fine).

Even if Frances cancels at the last minute, Lighthouse 360 can help. Its Cancellation Fill-In feature automatically contacts other patients until it finds someone to fill the time slot.

No matter what type of difficult patient you're dealing with, acknowledging their issues, empathizing with their concerns, and remaining polite but firm will go a long way toward defusing potentially explosive situations.

Read more about common dental practice headaches and how to handle them.



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