Practical tips on patient communication

Bethany Rushworth patient communicationBethany Rushworth talks about her experiences and gives you an exclusive insight into her work to help you with your professional development. You can expect tips on communicating and interacting with your patients, stress management strategies, and testimonials on setting and achieving goals as well as finding a work-life balance in times of a pandemic.

Dr Bethany Rushworth is an award-winning dentist with numerous scientific publications. She has been focusing on the personal development of dentists for years. Her several years of coaching experience allows her to look at everyday dentistry from an exciting perspective.

Look forward with us to this special series of articles. The first topic is patient communication.

Why is this important?

One of the most common reasons to receive a complaint in dentistry is due to communication, or lack thereof! This makes sense. You are unlikely to sue or complain about someone you like.

By communicating effectively with patients, we are able to educate them. This not only potentially improves their oral health, but also helps them to understand why our recommended treatment is valuable and important.

If things are explained clearly, patients can make informed decisions about their care. This minimises the chance of complaints and improves their experience.

As dentists we can also rely significantly on word-of-mouth referrals; therefore, giving patients a great experience can have long-lasting implications including increased patient numbers and satisfaction.

An easy life?

If things are explained clearly to patients from the beginning, it will make your life easier as the clinician.

Patients will arrive at each appointment feeling informed. It will save you time going back over things and clearing up misunderstandings.

The rest of the team will also thank you for this. There will be fewer patients going down to the desk asking difficult questions answered by possibly non-clinical staff. This can lead to relaying incorrect information to patients and add to the confusion.

Have your script and learn it!

Personally, 99% of the time I will explain each condition or scenario in exactly the same words, almost like a script.

I might tweak it each time so it is patient specific, but in general the content and language I use is the same.

Not only does this help ensure I don’t forget anything, the nurses who work with me pick up on this. I find them on many occasions using the same descriptions as I do when talking to our patients.

This consistency within the team ensures that patients really understand what is going on. It helps prevent missing information or miscommunications.

By getting into a habit of using a system or a routine, the appointments go more smoothly. I know that I have said the key points each time.

I also like using pictures/diagrams and 3D models to explain things to my patients. This can really help if they are a visual learner or if things aren’t entirely clear.

Record, record, record

Whilst it is all very well saying these things to our patients, it is still essential that we document doing so.

With the number of people we see and speak to each day, it is impossible to remember everything. Especially over a period of weeks, months and even years!

Detail in the notes should reflect the level of discussion. Summarise key points in a list at the end of the notes for that appointment. That will enable you to have a quick reference at each following visit.


Give some thought to the layout of your surgery. Is there anything you could do to improve it?

For example, is there any way you could position your computer so you can write notes and talk to the patient? Or position a chair somewhere that patients can sit and see images on the screen?

Whilst not everyone will have this luxury, there are things that we can consider, such as using a tablet to bring the images over to the patient or even having a book of printed pictures and diagrams.

Read further articles in the series:

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar