COVID-19 has intensified anxiety for many nervous patients, and created new anxiety for previously confident patients. In either case, it’s important to demonstrate empathy and understanding. Avoid dismissive or judgmental responses, such as, “There’s really no need to worry about that” or “Don’t believe everything you see in the media!”
Instead, ask them how they feel about visiting the dentist, listen attentively, and acknowledge their concerns. You might try phrases like:
“It sounds like this is a scary experience for you. Is there anything I can do to put you at ease?”
“I hear you and I understand why you might feel concerned about that. Can I tell you about what we’ve been doing here to manage risk?”
Whether you’re talking about COVID-19 or discussing a treatment plan, it’s important to address risk honestly and transparently to keep your patient’s trust. While you do want to be a reassuring voice, you should avoid statements such as:
Instead, you might say:
“We’re following strict recommendations from the national authorities to keep you as safe as possible."
If you hadn't already discussed what you are doing to manage risk, you could also explain that at this point.
Reiterate and recap
Not all patients are comfortable asking you to repeat or clarify information. When you’re explaining something to your patient, reiterate and summarize key points, and periodically check in to make sure they understand. Examples of questions to ask include:
Throughout the consultation and treatment, create opportunities for your patient to speak too, and listen attentively without interruption. Give your patient your full attention, maintain appropriate eye contact, and avoid fidgeting. To show that you’re engaged with what they’re saying, use gestures like nodding and leaning forward.
When your patient has finished speaking, paraphrase and reflect back what they’ve said to convey that you’ve understood them. For example:
Watch your paralanguage
Paralanguage refers to how you say something. It includes:
Pitch, pace, tone, volume and inflection
Filler or hesitation words (“like,” “um,” or “uh”)
Your patient’s perception of you can be influenced by your paralanguage, often subconsciously. For example, fillers, hesitation and nervous laughter make you appear less confident and authoritative, and may even make your patient feel anxious. Try to eliminate these habits and keep your voice neutral, clear and even.
Developing excellent communication skills now will help you inspire confidence in your patients during COVID-19 and throughout your career.