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December 2019

Handling Difficult Patients Must Follow a Team Approach

Dealing with an angry or difficult patient is uncomfortable, but having the entire dental team on the same page is key to appropriately handling the situation when it occurs.

The best way to achieve a uniformed response is by having a written protocol for the office. This protocol should outline how each staff member should respond to these patients.

Key actions to take when dealing with an unhappy patient include:

  • Immediately talking with the patient. By promptly addressing the patient’s concerns, he/she will feel like they are being heard and not dismissed, which may help diffuse the situation.
  • Avoiding the blame game. Arguing with a patient or trying to correct every inaccurate or exaggerated statement the patient makes will not help the situation. The goal is to find out why the patient is upset and what the office can do to resolve the dispute. Feeding into a patient’s heightened emotions only inflames the situation, and both parties will walk away frustrated and no closer to a solution.
  • Summarizing the issue to the patient. Once you have established why the patient is upset, reiterate the issue so he/she knows you understand. Again, this demonstrates that you are listening to the patient and working with him/her to resolve the problem.
  • Asking for a reasonable solution. Ask what the patient views as a reasonable solution to the problem. Once you and the patient have an agreed-upon solution, implement a plan so the patient understands the next steps.
  • Following through. This is a crucial step! Everything you’ve done to establish trust with the patient will be meaningless unless you follow through and implement the agreed-upon solution.

Unfortunately, there will be situations when a mutual solution cannot be reached. Depending on the circumstances, the doctor may decide to dismiss the patient from the practice, especially if the patient becomes violent and/or makes threats. If that occurs, ask that patient to leave the building and immediately call the police. The protection of everyone is important, and any threat should be taken seriously.

Improve Office Communication with a DiSC® Assessment

Help your office function efficiently by learning how people respond to conflict, what motivates a person, what causes stress, and how to solve problems based on an individual’s personality style.

Everything DiSC® is an assessment tool that helps individuals at every level of a practice identify and understand the different communication styles that exist, and the preferences and tendencies that go along with those styles. When your doctor enrolls the office in Everything DiSC®, the personality assessment program will be performed in your office by a certified Everything DiSC® trainer.The training provides language that the entire dental team can use to better understand themselves and adapt their behaviors within a work team, a patient/staff relationship, a leadership position, or other relationships.

DiSC® profiles help you and your team:

  • Increase your self-knowledge: how you respond to conflict, what motivates you, what causes you stress and how you solve problems.
  • Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members.
  • Facilitate better teamwork and teach productive conflict.
  • Develop stronger sales skills by identifying and responding to customer styles.
  • Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members.
  • Become more self-knowledgeable, well-rounded, and effective leaders.

DiSC® training also positively impacts a practice’s relationship with its patients. When staff implements DiSC® strategies, the result is better patient communication and a greater building of trust, which improves the patient’s overall dental experience.

With a little training the dental team will learn to understand each individual’s communication needs, and become a stronger, more efficient staff.


Two New Online CE Webinars Added to MDA Website

Two recorded one-hour webinars by human resources and MDA Journal columnist Jodi Schafer have just been added to the MDA website. The courses are ideal for office managers looking for helpful supervisory tips.

  • “Managing Toxic Behaviors” includes tips to help you identify the cause of toxic behaviors on your staff; do’s and don’ts; and suggestions for reducing bad behavior and improving the workplace culture.
  • “Fundamentals of Supervision” introduces some of the key skills needed to effectively supervise your team, allowing you to reset your focus and improve the overall results of your team in the process.

Both courses qualify for credit towards the MDA’s Dental Business Professional certification.


Get Confidential Help for Substance Abuse

The Michigan Dental Association’s Health and Well-Being Program assists MDA members, their families, and staff in recovery suffering from alcoholism, drug abuse, and other addictions that are real hazards to dental professionals.

This completely confidential advocacy program offers assistance to those in need by tapping into other dental professionals who’ve had similar experiences.

The program:

  • Helps you feel good about yourself again.
  • Rebuilds family and professional relationships.
  • Assists recovery so you can enjoy life again — including practicing dentistry.
  • Is available to dentists, dental office staff, and dental students.

If you suspect that you or another health professional are unable to practice due to alcoholism, drug abuse, or an emotional disorder, please call MDA’s Health and Well-Being Program at 517-525-5624, or email Your communication is always confidential.