The last year has forced dental practices to make many changes, including adopting mandatory mask policies, social distancing requirements, and offering telehealth consultations.
Most changes are easy for patients to manage, but sometimes there’s pushback. For example, many dental patients won’t wear a face mask even if they don’t have a medical condition that makes wearing a mask unsafe. This can be a point of contention between staff and patients.
Other patients might scoff at a dentist wearing an N95 mask, despite current suggestions to wear N95 masks in dental settings. You might also encounter patients who resist your new policies for using hand sanitizer or telehealth consultations. Whatever the situation, here’s how you can help patients acclimate to policy changes and keep their stress levels low.
1. Help patients understand the limitations of their insurance coverage
Even in less stressful times, dental insurance coverage is confusing. During tough times, when people are stressed out, people are going to forget the small details.
If you have patients who need extensive work, remind them of what is covered and what isn’t. Don’t just discuss it during their consultation, especially if they don’t have much coverage. In these difficult times, they might forget and end up expecting to have more coverage than they’ll actually get.
Encourage patients to get as much coverage as possible
Even though Medicare doesn’t cover most dental work, your eligible patients should have Medicare. If they qualify, then every dollar counts. Encourage them to compare Medicare costs and get a plan because it might come in handy in the future.
For instance, Medicare Part A will cover some dental work if it’s provided while a patient is hospitalized, and will also cover an inpatient hospital stay for an emergency or complicated dental procedure. That potential alone makes Medicare worth having.
2. Provide patients with a list of procedures classified as an emergency
In the event that businesses get shut down again to curb the spread of any illness, dental offices will once again only be able to perform emergency procedures. Patients often perceive dental emergencies very differently than their doctors. Some patients won’t understand that their scheduled procedure is considered elective.
The ADA says dental emergencies are “potentially life threatening and require immediate treatment to stop ongoing tissue bleeding [or to] alleviate severe pain or infection.” For example, qualifying issues include:
· A bacterial infection that might compromise the patient’s airway
· Facial trauma that could compromise a patient’s airway
· Removal of inflamed nerve tissue
· Some extractions
· Prescription refills
It might be wise to compile a short list of potential emergency procedures along with the context that makes those procedures an emergency. You don’t need to make an exhaustive or definitive list. A brief list of several examples will give your patients an idea of what constitutes a true dental emergency.
You can send your list to patients via email, publish the list on your blog, post it on the wall in your lobby, or hand out copies to patients at the end of their visit.
3. Be understanding and yield to patient frustration
Some of your patients are going to be adamant about not following your policies. They’re not looking at your new policies as something that will keep you in business and prevent you from getting shut down. They’re going to see your policies as an attack on their freedom.
If a patient is visibly upset, agitated, or frustrated, always yield to their direction before trying to guide them into compliance. Always practice de-escalation techniques. When someone is already upset, countering them will only make them more upset. No matter how much you disagree with the reason they won’t comply with your new policies, be agreeable with their reasons by understanding where they’re coming from.
Appeal to the connection you have with your patients. Explain that your new policies were dictated from outside your control, and make it clear that you don’t have a choice. Patients you have a connection with won’t want you to lose your practice. Make sure they know that violating your new policies will get you shut down.
Even though you probably won’t change their mind about their stance, playing into their concern for your business is a great way to elicit compliance.
Don’t be afraid to ban unruly patients
Change is inevitable, yet some people will never adjust. Be prepared and willing to ban patients who abuse you, your staff, or otherwise cause problems that can’t be resolved peacefully. Hopefully, you won’t need to, but in uncertain times you need to be prepared for anything.