As a dentist, you may find yourself in awkward or uncomfortable situations with patients during your career. It can be difficult to remain professional when you have patients who:
- Are verbally abusive
- Initiate physical contact such as hugging or kissing
- Make suggestive advances
- Insist on giving gifts
Rather than let your emotions get the best of you, remain in control of the situation. We've put together some tips for navigating through compromising positions with patients.
Learn to Recognize It
It's important to be able to identify when a patient has crossed a line. If you feel uncomfortable, something needs to change. Ask yourself why you are having these feelings: what is the exact behavior that is making you feel peculiar? Until you identify the source of the awkward feelings, you won't be able to address the situation.
Be Aware of Yourself
Be conscious of any signals or messages you may be sending. You need to be aware of how others are perceiving you. In your mind you may just be acting friendly toward your patient, but they can take that as an invitation for inappropriate behavior.
Set Clear Boundaries
Make it clear from the beginning that your relationship is strictly professional, and you will not tolerate inappropriate behavior. Patients may not even realize their actions are inappropriate. Quite often they will understand that their actions are unacceptable through nonverbal cues. There is certain body language you can consciously project to reinforce your disapproval.
Confront an Issue Head-on
When an issue arises, deal with it right away and directly. The patient needs to understand why their behavior is inappropriate and that you will not tolerate it. It's very important that you don't procrastinate. The longer you allow the behavior to continue, the more difficult it will be to stop.
Define Your Options
Every situation is different. You will not be able to handle each one with the same solution, nor can you expect the same outcome. But it's just good business to at least have a starting point. The idea is to work through the conflict. Steps you should take include:
- Politely inform your patient that you are uncomfortable in this particular situation and explain why.
- Inquire as to why the patient is expressing such behavior.
- Be open to the possibility that you may have misunderstood the situation.
- Discuss possible compromises in which the situation can be avoided in the future.
- If the situation becomes hostile, firmly ask them to leave and offer to set a meeting for a later time when things are calmer.
- During any conflict resolution it's a good idea to have a third person in the room.
Keep in mind your patient may not even realize they have crossed a line. And referring your patient to another dentist should only be a last resort. Stay in control of the situation by remaining calm and being patient but firm, and you can resolve most uncomfortable moments and move on with a stronger dentist-patient relationship.