And that's why you shouldn't cross the line with your patients

May 30, 2012
Renee Knight

Issue 5

You want to be friendly with your patients, to build a rapport that helps keep them loyal to you and your practice. What you don’t want to do is become too familiar or so comfortable with your patients that you end up taking it too far, and saying something that leaves them feeling uncomfortable and maybe even looking for a new practice.

You want to be friendly with your patients, to build a rapport that helps keep them loyal to you and your practice.

What you don’t want to do is become too familiar or so comfortable with your patients that you end up taking it too far, and saying something that leaves them feeling uncomfortable and maybe even looking for a new practice.

We talked to Penny Reed Limoli, owner of the Reed Limoli Group, for advice on how to keep it friendly without crossing the line. Here’s what she had to say.

1. Don’t be too nosey. If a patient is late for an appointment, it’s really none of your business why, so unless the patient offers up a reason, don’t ask. If you ask a patient why he or she missed that last appointment or showed up late today, it automatically puts that patient on the defensive, Limoli said.

When you’re asking your patients questions, avoid the word “why” because it comes off as accusatory, Limoli said. But that doesn’t mean you should let it slide if a patient is constantly running late or missing appointments. Tell the patient you missed him at last week’s appointment time, and ask if everything is OK. Tell the patient it seems like you’re having trouble finding appointment times that work, and you and your staff will do everything you can to support him to find an appointment time that fits his schedule. Better yet, tell your administrator to have this conversation with the patient.

2. Don’t get too personal. You dental practice isn’t a place to find a date, so don’t ask your patients out. That’s a great way to get reported to your state dental board. Even if you’re not looking for a date, and you’re just trying to find something to talk about, don’t ask probing questions about a patient’s personal life, Limoli said. This can be misconstrued as sexual harassment and get you in trouble. If a patient starts talking about her husband, boyfriend or family that’s fine, but you shouldn’t be the one to bring it up.

3. Don’t be judgmental. We’ve all wanted to tell parents to control their out-of-control kids when they’re running amuck in a restaurant or department store. But if a patient’s child is misbehaving while they’re in your practice, resist the urge to question that patient’s parenting skills, or even give them a bit of friendly advice. Nobody wants to be told how to raise their children, and if you offer your opinion you may never see that patient and his or her child again.

Now, if you see a child practicing habits that can lead to poor oral hygiene, then you might want to step in, Limoli said, but you still want to avoid negative comments. Try telling the parent about the dangers that come with what the child is doing and what they can do to correct it to improve their child’s oral health.

4. Don’t get religious.  Whether you have strong religious beliefs doesn’t matter, your patients don’t want to hear them. Avoid asking your patients if they go to church, because if they don’t it may make the conversation turn awkward and the patient feel uncomfortable. Instead, ask your patients to tell you about themselves and their community involvement, Limoli said. That doesn’t put them on the spot, yet gives you a chance to get to know them a little better.

5. Don’t go political. Conversations about politics can get heated, and that’s not the type of conversations you want to have with your patients. If the patient brings up the latest headlines or starts talking about their favorite presidential candidate, try to stay as neutral as possible, Limoli said, especially if your political views don’t line up with the patient you’re working on.

It’s OK, actually a good thing, to get to know your patients and to offer a friendly environment in your practice, you just have to know where to draw the line. Ask your patients about what their interests and hobbies are, but don’t get too personal. You don’t want to make your patients uncomfortable or give them any reason to consider giving their loyalties to a practice down the street.