How to manage patient expectations in the dental practice

Lesley Taylor explains how managing patient expectations can be hugely important in achieving a satisfactory outcome.

Lesley Taylor explains how managing patient expectations can be hugely important in achieving a satisfactory outcome.

Ideally, dental professionals and patients should both be on the same page when it comes to expectations and outcomes of any treatment. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, which may increase the likelihood of a complaint. As such, managing patient expectations from the beginning is a vitally important skill for the whole dental team.

A patient’s expectations are likely to extend beyond their clinical care into non-clinical areas of care, for example, the emotional impact of the experience, or if they felt cared about (and cared for) by the dental team.

There are many issues that might lead to a patient having unrealistic expectations when receiving dental treatment:

  • Lack of information – patients may not have been appropriately informed about what to expect. They could have unrealistic expectations about things like waiting times, treatment availability or complications of treatment
  • Too much information – patients might attend the practice with a preconception of how they will be treated. This might be because they have based their expectations on previous experiences or on the experiences of friends and family whose situation may have been different
  • Time pressures – it can be challenging to manage appointment times but spending enough time talking to a patient to check they fully understand the issues involved in their care, the potential complications of their treatment or alternative treatment options is still a vitally important step
  • Anxiety – if a patient is anxious when they come to the practice, this can make misunderstandings more likely.

Reassure and build trust

Patients’ expectations can be managed by the dental team in a number of different ways. Firstly, it is important to ensure that information is easily accessible and consistent across all practice channels, including web pages, social media, answering machines and posters in waiting rooms.

Secondly, every patient is different and will have different levels of understanding. Ensure you avoid dental terminology, abbreviations and jargon, and with the patient’s permission, involve those close to them in the discussion where appropriate and check that the patient has understood all of the information you have given.

Also, consider providing patient information leaflets for the patient to read at home to help reinforce the information you provide in surgery.

Developing a non-confrontational way for patients to discuss concerns or leave feedback can allow you to address any issues early on and hopefully avoid escalation to a complaint. This might also help you to make any changes that can improve patient confidence in the care you provide.

Giving patients opportunities for them to discuss their care also improves patient confidence and lets you reassure them, manage their expectations and build trust.

Managing a patient complaint

If a patient feels that their expectations have not been met and does decide to make a complaint, it is important to have a clear complaint procedure in place that is understood and followed by the whole dental team.

The type of complaints dental practices are having to deal with include:

  • Capacity issues resulting in not being able to accept new patients or patients who have not attended regularly – both in the NHS and the private sector
  • Lack of access for both emergency care and routine examination appointments
  • Delays between examination appointments and being seen for completion of the treatment plan.

If a patient is unhappy about their ability to access care, handling any complaint quickly and professionally should go a long way towards avoiding escalation. It usually helps to empathise with patients about their frustration and explain what steps are being taken to address any access issues.

Remember that verbal complaints are just as valid as written complaints. Don’t insist that patients put their complaint in writing, as this might encourage them to complain elsewhere.

Follow Dentistry on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

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