7 Ways to Turn Awkward Appointments into Amazing Ones

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We all have that one patient (maybe more) that we see in our schedule and inwardly cringe. Or we have a new patient that makes our head spin with their bizarre behavior. How do you handle that? What do you say? Can we make this appointment go “normally?” Below are seven tips for making awkward appointments run smoothly thereby making the experience better for you AND the patient

1. Smile and Nod

This may seem like a rude statement, but it’s the exact opposite. When you look a patient in the eyes and acknowledge them, they tend to relax. You can offer a simple smile and let them know you are listening. When you listen, you gain trust. When you have trust, you have potential for compliance. Patients need to have trust in their provider. If they feel alienated, the appointment will spiral downhill. Offering a kind smile and looking the patient in the eye will go a long way toward a great working relationship.

2. Keep up your Energy

Patients with quirky personalities or less than desirable antics are challenging to handle. They can drain your energy. Adding a bright spark within your own personality will give you the added energy you need to succeed with this patient. People pick up on energies, and if yours is negative, you have the ingredients for a negative encounter. Being an “eternal optimist” is perfect for the hygiene profession. It not only makes your day better, but the patient’s as well.

3. Reflect their Communication Style

One of the secrets to success as a business professional is to reflect communication styles. Listening to the person you are talking to and reflecting their own ideas back to them helps further understanding. It solidifies ideas and reinforces concepts. It means success for your patient. When a patient can reiterate successful homecare options with the careful guidance of their hygienist, continuation of the homecare techniques is highly likely. Forcing your own ideas or degrading them by shaming their habits will not make them start flossing. Working together and using the patient’s own ideas is a great way to build patient confidence and maintain oral health over time.

4. Redirect

When a patient crosses the line by displaying rude or inappropriate behavior, it is of the utmost importance to immediately redirect the conversation or behavior. This doesn’t mean being a “doormat” for rude patients to walk all over you. It means setting firm boundaries for how you expect to be treated and focusing on the task at hand. Confronting a patient directly and letting them know their behavior will not be tolerated is a great way to nip bad behavior in the bud. Clearly stating you will not tolerate this behavior is always okay. Set that boundary. Know your limits of insolent behavior. Keep those limits. Move forward with the appointment if expectations for behavior are met and kept. By professionally redirecting your patient’s behavior, you will gain the respect of your patient as a healthcare provider.

5. Focus on the Task

Do you have a patient getting flirty? Are they moving into that uncomfortable conversation about politics? Are things getting a little too “personal?” This is a great time to use your redirecting skills and go right into super hygienist mode. First, set your boundaries if things are getting dangerous. Next, go into all things teeth. Focus on homecare. Address those bleeding gums. Talk about bacteria and systemic health. These topics will remind someone why they are in your chair. It will also reinforce that you are a healthcare professional and should be treated as such. Oral health is a safe topic to talk about all the time. Don’t get pulled into a trap of going into political leanings or family life. Work is work, and some topics are always off limits. Keep the appointment focused, and the outcome will be positive.

6. Reinforce Good Behavior

Six months rolls around and that patient that made your skin crawl is in the schedule to come back in. You greet them and they are chipper and seem happy to see you. The appointment goes well and surprise! Their oral hygiene is great. Don’t be afraid to let them know you’ve noticed. Praise them for their excellent work on their oral hygiene over the last few months. Let them know it was a pleasure to see them today. Your positive energy will rub off on the patient. Behaviors have been corrected and you can relax knowing you’ve done your job and things should be smooth sailing from here on out.

7. Look Forward to a Better Appointment

Congratulations! You’ve turned awkward, uncomfortable, cringe-worthy appointments into relaxing, normal appointments. Both you and your patient will breathe a sigh of relief. Your patient will know that you are accepting and accommodating, but that you don’t tolerate being treated as less than anything but professional. You will know that you don’t have to worry about your patient disrespecting you. Now you can look forward to seeing these patients thrive with their oral health.

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Nikole Schram, RDH
Nikole is a dental hygienist with a passion for community service. She graduated from Lansing Community College in 2013 with honors. She has been working in a community dental hygiene clinic for five years serving complex need patients. She has an intense desire and drive to improve low-income access to health and dental care through community outreach programs. She is currently involved in the planning stages of a community project called the Dependable Smiles Project to gain funding for periodontal therapies for low-income patients. In her free time, she enjoys riding and showing dressage horses as well as traveling with her husband and three dogs.