Information imperatives

Dr Paul O'Dwyer

Word of Mouth |  Dr Paul O’Dwyer BDS MSc (Healthcare Management). Communication with your patients should begin the moment they set foot in your surgery, and that interaction has never been so important

At recent conferences, I was struck by one common theme that appears to arise routinely – that of communication. It’s a broad theme, I’ll grant you, but I believe it is important in today’s modern dental practice to understand the necessity of improved communication skills at all levels of interaction with our patients.

Front desk

Traditionally, dentists have often linked the level of patient satisfaction directly with the quality of the dentistry that they provide and the patient receives. Increasingly, it is becoming evident that while the physical provision of dentistry and clinical outcomes are indeed central to content patients, it’s those first steps to arriving on the dental chair that are almost equally important.

Communication from the front desk is usually the first exposure the patient has with your practice. So, can you ask yourself: What impression would I have if I telephoned or called into my practice?

The front desk team has a crucial role in highlighting the strengths of your particular practice. Some customer training can often help.

Now, I realise that there is still some resistance to adopting the practices of the commercial sector, into the dental setting.

However, if you think about it from a healthcare stance, most patients will routinely only be exposed to general medical and general dental practice throughout their lives. So why not fly the flag for healthcare and keep the standards they enjoy with other services?

Some questions that might help here include: how well versed is your front-desk team in the Medical Card and PRSI services? Does your practice offer some specialist treatments? Have you recently extended your opening times or offer Saturday morning appointments? Critically – can your front desk team communicate this?


A (since retired) colleague of mine often suggests that we spent five years learning the correct name for prosthetics, crown and bridge and oral surgery – to then spend the following 30 years translating them into: “plates”, “caps” and extractions.

The area of communication between dentist/hygienist and patient is becoming increasingly challenging. The old-style patriarchal standard of telling the patient what’s best is now being replaced by “co-discovery” and, most importantly, informed consent-making.

We are consistently reminded by our indemnity organisations in relation to accurate note-taking and, indeed, informed consent. Some questions for clinicians here that might help are: How informed is the patient of the choices we have offered? Is the patient aware of the choice they have accepted? The cost involved? The percentage chance of success? As always, the published literature is showing increasing examples that can help – and again customer training might be a solution here.


Our dental nurses occupy a unique position in the dental team. They are often seen by the patient as the go-between – someone who speaks “dentistry” fluently and yet retains the ability to inform the patient in simple terms. This has been the hallmark of many successful practices throughout the years.

Building on this strength, it might be useful to spend some time asking your dental nurses what the most common queries are in that walk between chair and reception? The answers might surprise you – and help to improve communication in total.

A brief review of the above, and importantly linking it to what healthcare experts term “the patient journey”, can help to really let your practice and team shine.

Patients appreciate more communication rather than less – and are more likely to tell others of your services. 

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Published: 3 September, 2018 at 10:30
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