How to improve your team’s communication skills

Angela Love discusses the importance of excellent communication skills in the dental team and tips on how to achieve this.

Angela Love discusses the importance of excellent communication skills in the dental team and tips on how to achieve this.

It’s increasingly common for patients to receive care from various members of the dental team. Sometimes it’s on referral from a colleague, but it may also be on self-referral by the patient.

So, good teamwork is essential for both coordinated patient care and the smooth running of a practice.

No matter who is involved, good, clear communication skills between dental professionals are vital. 

It’s important for all parties to recognise and respect each other’s roles and views to develop good working relationships.

Keep communication clear

To maintain best quality of care, all members of the dental team must communicate clearly and effectively with each other.

This is especially important when delegating treatment, referring a patient to a specialist or ordering dental appliances from a laboratory.

Before making a referral, have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and how you will do it before discussing tasks with others.

When making a referral, check the referral correspondence is accurate and that you’ve included any records, photographs, scans or radiographs.

Include all the relevant information, such as the patient’s medical, dental and social histories, clinical findings and diagnosis, and treatment plan.

Specify the precise nature of the work you are referring the patient for and the expected outcome

A practice protocol can help make sure all relevant information is documented clearly when patients are referred. If you receive a referral where the details are unclear, contact the referring dental professional for clarification.

When ordering a dental appliance from a laboratory for the first time, or if the order is quite complicated, it’s sensible to check the order has been received and is understood.

Only delegate or refer a patient to a member of the team who is trained, competent and appropriately indemnified. The request to delegate should be clear and include all relevant information.

Team members should only accept a referral or delegation if they have the knowledge and skills and believe what they are being asked to do is in the patient’s best interests.

If in doubt, discuss with the colleague concerned.

Understanding individual scope of practice

Dental hygienists and therapists can treat patients within their scope of practice without the need for a full mouth assessment by a dentist, provided they are trained, competent and appropriately indemnified.

Clinical dental technicians can treat patients with no teeth or implants without the need for a dentist to complete a full mouth assessment and develop a treatment plan.

However, within the dental team, only dentists can prescribe prescription-only medicines, including antibiotics and local anaesthetics.

Additionally, only dentists can sign a patient group direction for a dental practice or clinic, fully report on radiographs, or prescribe/supervise tooth whitening treatment.

Dental hygienists and therapists with the necessary training can carry out the first cycle of tooth whitening, provided that a dentist:

  • Has assessed the suitability of the patient for the treatment, and
  • Is on the premises at the time of the first whitening treatment.

Be open and honest

The GDC expects dental professionals to treat colleagues ‘fairly and with respect, in all situations and all forms of interaction and communication’.

You should make every effort to be approachable and open so that colleagues are comfortable discussing a patient’s treatment and can address concerns.

Take time to reflect on any adverse incidents caused by a failure in communication with a colleague. 

Consider what you need to do to improve communication skills within the practice – for example, having staff attend professional training courses.

Shared learning can be a valuable exercise.

Manage conflict

It is an inevitable fact of life that we cannot get on with everybody all the time.

Conflicts will arise in the workplace for a variety of reasons. So, if you manage or lead a team, prepare for this and make sure you handle it sensitively and effectively.

It is sensible to obtain HR advice. DDU members can do this via employment law advice line via our partners Peninsula.

Make sure your practice has an anti-bullying policy so that members of the team treat each other with respect.

When using social media sites or other public media, the GDC says that dental professionals: ‘Must not make personal, inaccurate or derogatory comments about patients or colleagues’.

It’s ideal if each workplace has an internet and social media policy, and that all staff are aware of it and know the importance of following it. 

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