Effective communication is essential to being an effective provider.
Whether you are a receptionist, a dental hygienist, a dental assistant, a manager, or a doctor, the common question to be asked is, “How can I be effective and connect with my patients, their parents, or with each other, while wearing PPE?”
Communication is the cornerstone of patient care and the acceptance of necessary treatment recommendations. The creation of Trust is based on connecting with patients and their parents and is now more difficult than ever before due to the physical barriers created by PPE.
In addition to the physical limitations created by PPE, communication is exacerbated by heightened levels of anxiety and stress created by the current fears associated with this healthcare crisis.
Our past professional experiences, our training, and our successful patient management of our children, who have difficulty in learning, is now seriously challenged with the use of PPE.
Our skills and humanity do not translate properly through a mask.
The Importance of Communication
PPE, including masks, shields, and body coverings, hide our facial expressions, our main tool for displaying empathy. Smiling, one of the easiest and most instinctual ways to connect with another person, is no longer an option. Masks muffle our voices, making it more difficult to catch every word and to discern the inflection associated with emotion.
In addition, to these physical barriers, the additional time restraints placed upon the patient experience, interferes with our ability to individualize the patient’s specific needs.
How PPE Impacts Communication
There are many individuals who are affected by the barriers associated with PPE. They are the child patient, their parent, and each team member, as we go about our daily tasks. There are the unfamiliar new patient families, the special needs family and the seriously anxious parent and child to consider.
In addition, there are physical limitations placed upon the wearer of PPE that might impact your ability to stay ‘in the moment’. The restrictions, the discomfort, the overbearing heat, are just some of the issues that we are now dealing with. In spite of these restrictions, we must develop responses that help us to maintain effective communication throughout our day.
There are many critical moments where effective communication is a requirement, and they are when:
- The greeter cheerfully welcomes each patient into the office.
- The hygienist addresses fear and anxiety to elicit a proper behavioral response for each child’s unique circumstance.
- The hygienist shares important information about nutritional guidance, oral health principles, and behavioral management concepts.
- The treatment coordinator recommends treatment plans.
- The financial coordinator discusses the treatment plan and makes arrangements for treatment.
- The receptionist checks a patient out and schedules the patients next appointment.
- The doctor, hygienist, assistant, and front desk staff communicate with each other.
These examples are just some of the specific moments when effective communication must be considered.
Below are some quick tips to help build TRUST and increase effective communication when wearing PPE.
- Acknowledge the PPE: “I know I appear a bit different, but this is what I actually look like,” holding up your photo ID.
- Face the patient, parent, or co-worker and make sure they are looking before communicating.
- When speaking to a patient or parent, be sure you are at eye level.
- Make good eye contact, and ‘soften your gaze,’ with eyebrows raised and tilting your head slightly.
- Speak in a somewhat louder voice due to the mask, but soften any loud harshness. Exude warmth through your tone of voice.
- Be responsive to the conversation. Support understanding by physically using gestures and body language to communicate information.
- Non-verbal communication can be enhanced by smiling when speaking. This also calms and relaxes you.
- Allow for more time and don’t appear rushed.
The concepts and strategies presented above reflect our commitment to creating very successful encounters with our patient families. A little extra effort, incorporating these changes, should help in bringing humanity to our practice and to the children that we serve.
Keeping Safe at KidZdent,