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Ethel Hagans is a dental hygienist first, and then, the author of the book Extraordinary Dental Care. She is obsessed with motivating hygienists to raising their level of care, in order to woo their patients into patterns of great oral hygiene. Her motto: “In the end our main goal is to make sure their teeth outlast them!”
When a dental patient exhibits inappropriate behavior, it’s imperative that members of the dental team react to it swiftly and professionally.
All clinical team members should always show respect to their patients, but it’s a two-way street. So when a patient exhibits inappropriate behavior, it’s imperative that you react to it swiftly and professionally. Let the patient know that the behavior is inappropriate and, for you to put forth your best effort and administer platinum care, the issue first needs to be resolved.
Do NOT stand by and become a victim or accept what’s considered by others around the office to simply be innocent, “harmless” behavior. When an uncomfortable situation arises that you are unable to diffuse on your own, you should immediately bring it to the attention of the doctor or office manager. Then as soon as possible, so that it’s still fresh in your mind, record the details in a written statement.
At one office I worked at, there was a guy who would make derogatory comments to a fellow coworker of mine every time he came in. Unfortunately, no matter how many times she would tell him his comments were inappropriate, he would not stop them. She eventually grew to hate the times he would come in.
Some offices accept this type of behavior and laugh it off. However, in this case after the situation was brought to light, the appropriate action was taken. Once the current office manager was made aware of the derogatory remarks, the man was written a letter stating why he was being released from the office, and advised to have his work completed by another associate. We never saw him again. It’s not worth the effort to deal with unruly patients. You have enough to handle already, and the least you deserve is respect and common courtesy.
Some offices would be unhappy due to the financial loss of a patient, but many others would applaud your efforts. No matter what though, just remember you are not working at Hooters, but a professional dental facility.
Sadly, a number of dental offices are filled with pretty, young girls who lack experience or have little dental knowledge, and a majority of them are only hired in order to attract a more modern, professional clientele. They are hired based on certain criteria, such hair color, facial features, or body type, and then dressed in tight T-shirts with the company’s logo right on top. Sadly, this attracts patients who think of the office as nothing more than a breeding ground for future girlfriends and wives. That’s why when looking for an employer, be extra careful to select an office that has a good policy on patient behavior and overall integrity.
There are some cases though that a dismissible letter is not necessary … when the comment is addressed and solved by you. To do this immediately, tell the offending patient that that type of behavior is not tolerated, and if it continues, it will only cause them to be dismissed from the practice. For example, I once had a lewd, older man seated in my chair. Once the coast was clear, he proceeded to show me a dirty picture stashed in his shirt pocket. It was of a naked lady on a poker card!
So, I then calmly explained to him the office policy due to his behavior, and I told him that I would tell his wife, who was seated out in the waiting room, if he continued. He immediately apologized and I was able to complete his cleaning (he only had about 10 teeth and an upper denture). He was quiet as a mouse the rest of the appointment. You may be surprised to find that patients who are confronted on their derogatory comments are often embarrassed and unlikely do it again.
Whether by you, the doctor, or the office manager, the situation needs to be addressed, period. No doctor wants that kind of negative energy in his or her office. It presents an atmosphere that is both annoying and threatening to the team. Patients and employees are sometimes even suing offices that condone this type of behavior.
Fortunately, there are offices that address these kinds of issues during their morning huddle, and convention classes throughout the year that teach how to handle difficult patients.
A flirty or derogatory patient can not only cause the morale of the office to plummet, but also cause the employees to become apprehensive when that one name appears on the schedule. No office should have to put up with this, from a man or woman. Every employee is a part of your dental family, and you would not want your family member insulted.