Perception: A Patient’s Privilege
PATIENTS WANT to feel secure and comfortable in the dental office. However, some patients arrive with perceptions that prevent them from feeling secure and comfortable. What we say and do can reinforce those perceptions, making the visit difficult for everyone, or we can manage our interaction with the patient to change those perceptions and make the visit a success in every respect.
Patient care is a form of “service” business because we provide a necessary service for our patients. That doesn’t mean that patients are happy about needing that service. Many times patients come to our office unhappy not only because a tooth is painful but also because the painful tooth has interrupted their day. The stress of having a toothache along with having to juggle the personal demands of the day can affect the way a patient perceives the dental visit. Therefore, it is important to listen for clues to the way the patient will perceive the visit to your office.
When under stress, patients’ perceptions of their actions are often skewed. Sometimes, patients want to find someone else to blame for their dental problem rather than blaming themselves. Many times, a patient will prod you with questions, trying to ascertain how this could have happened and who is at fault. A patient who hasn’t seen a dentist in years may come to you feeling guilty. To justify her negligence in not coming for regular visits, she may state that it’s because she doesn’t like going to the dentist. If you have been her dentist for years, such a statement could easily be taken as a personal insult; however, it is better not to take it that way. By not assuming that the negative association refers to you, you will change your perception of the patient—for the better. Your attitude will change, and that will change the patient’s perception of you.
For example, since the patient hasn’t seen a dentist in a while, her hygiene may be poor. Our explanation of the cause of her trouble will mold her perception of us. Instead of blaming the patient by asserting that her lack of personal hygiene caused her problem and her immediate pain, it may be better to focus on trying to recommend treatment options for the complaint.
A patient who is looking for someone to blame is usually a person who does not take responsibility for his or her actions. Therefore, when you recommend the treatment, it is important to include in the recommendation the patient’s responsibility in achieving the desired result. Post-operative care and follow-up visits must be a part of the recommended treatment.
Our patients’ perceptions are their privilege. However, we play a role in the way our patients perceive us. Their perceptions of us depend in part on how they think we perceive them—and we can control the way a patient perceives our perception of them. Even when a patient may have a difficult personality or be in a “bad” mood, he or she has the privilege of deciding how to view us. We also have the right to project to our patients our true feelings about them. However, the entire experience during treatment—including post-operative care and follow-up—is likely be better for patient and practitioner if we adjust our perceptions to focus on the future rather than the past: on successful treatment, a happy patient, and a happy dentist.
Since we want our patients to feel secure and comfortable in our office even when they are having difficult days, it is important that we understand how our behaviors affect their perceptions of us. How they view us depends to a great degree on how they think we view them.
July - September 2012
Our patients’ perceptions of us depend in part on how they think we perceive them.