3 Different Shades of Rudeness You May Encounter in a Dental Practice

April 12, 2021
Lisa Newburger, LISW-S
Lisa Newburger, LISW-S

Lisa Newburger, a master's level social worker supervisor, helps audiences find humor in talking about tough topics. Her "in-your-face" style of presentations and writing will make you smile or just shock you into taking some action. Either way, she is very effective at empowering others to reach their goals and feel better about themselves. Her entertaining workshops are available for national and international audiences. Writing for the dental industry since 2010, she uses an alterego (Diana Directive) to illustrate her points in a sarcastic but effective way. Presentations can be scheduled by contacting Lisa at www.discussdirectives.com/dental.html.

Taking a look at some rudeness you may encounter in your dental practice.

If political correctness was thrown out the window, how would you handle rude patients who storm into your dental practice and stress you out? I know, this is opening Pandora’s box, but why not? There are 3 kinds of rude patients we all deal with. What do you really want to say to them?

The Late Patient

Talk to them the way your mother would communicate with you when you were late for curfew. (No offense moms.) It might go something like this…

“Who do you think you are… showing up late? A simple phone call to explain what was going on would have been very much appreciated! But no, you were just too busy and inconsiderate to pick up a phone and call. That would have given us the chance to reschedule and not mess up everyone’s schedules. I have a childcare pick-up to do, and who is going to pay for the overtime fee since I will now be late? We are going to charge you to offset the costs for all the trouble you have instigated.”

My Thoughts

Reschedule those patients if your boss lets you. True story, I was 10 minutes late once for a dentist appointment. It was winter in Cleveland, so I did not call because the roads were treacherous. My objective was to get there even though I knew I would be late. Upon arrival, I was told to reschedule. Was I annoyed? Yes. Was I ever late again for a dentist appointment? No. It was a learning moment, and I got the message loud and clear.

The Cell Phone Patient

It is so annoying to listen to someone holding a heated phone conversation in a dental office. Picture it, the patient arrives yelling at their kids, co-workers, who knows it could even be the dog. Do they put down their phone or end their conversation? No. They just keep the call going and hand their insurance cards to you. Then, when they sit down, they disrupt the other person in the waiting room with their noisy call. The message is this phone call is more important than the social graces of getting off the phone and not disturbing others. You know who I am talking about. The patients who hold up their finger to say one minute as they wrap up their call while you are shifting from one foot to the other.

My Thoughts

Yell, “Get off the phone!” or “You are being incredibly rude.” I have wanted to say that to patients so many times. Yet, people keep trying to multitask. Better that they go out to the hallway and have their theatrics on the phone privately. We can just open the door to the office to let them know when it is their turn. They think their call is so important that it cannot wait. Guess what? It can wait.

The Demanding Patient

These are the patients who always want something and nothing is ever good enough. They want it and want it now. They are overly critical of the staff and bad mouth you to your face. These are the ones who complain about everything. They complain about how they are treated, how their teeth were cleaned, and always, the bill. 

My Thoughts

Tell them, “Don’t even come back!” Let us be honest, we have all wanted to say that to more than one difficult patient. Sometimes we can fire a patient, but not usually. Dumping patients is frowned upon. My office manager once said to a patient who was threatening, “Get out,” which was an experience to remember. We all wanted this to happen so the staff had to show restraint from giving her a standing ovation after she did this. We had enough. You must have a safe work environment. When it is not, I believe immediate action must be taken.

Do not get me wrong, I am not encouraging you to follow the magical thinking that we all have in these challenging situations with rude patients. But, sometimes, it is just therapeutic to think about what you would want to say but cannot. Write it down. Putting on paper your frustrations and then destroying it can do wonders for your mental state. We are all in customer service. That means having to deal with a lot of nonsense. Sometimes, that nonsense can be addressed and rectified. But sometimes, there is really nothing you can do but continue to provide the best professional service.

Email me at diana2@discussdirectives.com and share what you have wanted to say to your most difficult patient, and most importantly remember that there can be consequences for such blatant honesty if you address it directly to them, so stay professional at all times.