Communication skills

Dec. 1, 2002
A diagnosis-driven approach to hygiene is largely dependent on staff communication skills. Our ability to effectively communicate enhances our success and satisfaction in life.

Beverly Maguire, RDH

A diagnosis-driven approach to hygiene is largely dependent on staff communication skills. Our ability to effectively communicate enhances our success and satisfaction in life. In dentistry, communication mastery is essential to the relationship between between hygienist and patient, hygienist and doctor, and doctor and patient.

These principles may seem elementary, but most transitional challenges stem from problems with foundational issues. Teams have the knowledge, but often lack the support of organized systems and protocols. This is frustrating for dentists and their teams. Nothing ever seems to change, and the hygiene department seems continuously unproductive.

Communication involves telling patients that they have periodontal disease and are in need of care beyond the traditional "cleaning." Why does this tenet have the ability to strike fear in hygienists and doctors alike?

We often avoid giving patients information that they may not want to hear. What if patients leave the practice? What if we've been negligent? It's simply fear that drives the status quo. Great communication is the way out of the quagmire.

Gathering scientific data with a periodontal chart and presenting a report of findings to each patient consistently is a good beginning. However, we must communicate those findings to ensure our patients receive appropriate care.

Using visual aids and lay language is another way we can ensure that patients fully understand periodontal information. Instead of "pockets," how about discussing bone loss and infection? Instead of "root planing" or "deep cleaning," try treatment for gum disease. We must choose our words deliberately. We need to motivate patients emotionally, yet avoid instilling fear, recrimination, or mistrust. Hygienists generally are great communicators; mastering this process often involves nothing more than establishing basic protocols and terminology that assure consistent reinforcement.

To facilitate the periodontal diagnosis, the doctor must consolidate the findings and assess data from the hygienist, and evaluate the patients health history, homecare effectiveness, and periodontal charting outcome. Armed with quality data from the hygienist, the doctor can easily ascertain the patient's perio status and progress to the diagnosis.

Patients appreciate consistent messages from the staff and will feel more comfortable with their findings.

After the diagnosis, it's up to the hygienist to complete the case presentation by covering the four basic patient concerns:

1 What's my problem?
2 How can you help me?
3 Will it hurt?
4 How much will it cost?

Hygienists should support these efforts with aids such as the Oral B periodontal flip chart, the CAESY video patient education system, or the Listerine (P&G) periodontal flip chart. It's also a good idea for the staff to role-play, which can ensure that all team members are consistent and knowledgeable when delivering nonsurgical periodontal treatment options.

The business staff is the final link in the communication process. Scheduling, financial, and insurance issues must be addressed; patients also often ask last-minute questions of the business staff. Therefore, they must be comfortable with this approach to treating periodontal disease.

Consistent communication can be one of the most powerful adjuncts to your periodontal protocols. Good communication comes from the heart and is delivered compassionately. With a plan, some practice, and your entire team's cooperation, dentists can be assured of outstanding success with periodontal case presentations and acceptance.

Beverly Maguire, RDH, is a practicing dental hygienist. She is president and founder of Perio Advocates, a hygiene consulting company based in Littleton, Colo. She can be reached at (303) 730-8529 or by email at [email protected].

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