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Communicating a treatment plan while conveying trustworthiness is required of successful dentists. Patients discern subtle cues during dialogue which helps them judge whether or not the scope of proposed treatment sounds right. Not convinced, they may fail to return.
This month, a psychologist and a dental school faculty member talk about how dental students and practitioners communicate with patients about treatments.
Behind the one-way glass, a dental instructor observes and listens. An actor is portraying a patient in a standardized scenario. He is being questioned by a real-life dental student in this exercise. It goes smoothly.
Afterward, the actor had only one suggestion for improvement: slow down. The student and the instructor add their own critiques of how it played out. Simulations like this one allow students to practice choosing just the right words. This is the inaugural class at Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-Illinois (CDMI), based in Downers Grove. The scenarios — unknown to the dental students enrolled in a course entitled “Health Care Communications” — involve getting a health history and giving findings and treatment plans, says Darryn Weinstein, DDS, MBA, MPH, Assistant Dean for Clinical Education.
Clinical psychologists from the school’s behavioral science department work with the CDMI instructors to teach the dental students.
Dental patients decode subtle cues they use to evaluate their dentist’s recommendations. Generalizations, sarcasm and avoiding eye contact maybe interpreted as evidence that a dentist is holding something back. Researchers in the 2003 Journal of Nonverbal Behavior characterized “trustworthiness behaviors” as those that through emotional expressivity are interpersonally attractive and bring about a willingness to cooperate. Knowing this, computer animators coax an emotional connection from humans while viewing avatars — as reported in a 2007 article in the journal Emotion — by adding facial movements to the avatar such as hesitation in eye gaze shift during a head turn.
John T. Sorrell, PhD, a clinical instructor at the Stanford University Pain Management Center, works with patients who fear pain. According to Dr. Sorrell: “Dental patients’ fears are a barrier to processing incoming information. People have automatic thoughts: ‘I need a crown? It’s going to cost how much? No way!’ The person doesn’t hear the next seven pieces of information because they are caught up in worrying, ‘no way, no way, no way.’ ” Thus, treatments are best explained slowly, more than once, or in multiple forms (e.g., writing).
Here are tips for a more successful delivery of your proposed treatment plan.
“Listening is one of the most important skills of any healthcare provider. If you provide the patient opportunities to speak, they will often share much of the information you are seeking,” Dr. Weinstein concluded.
Dr. Sorrell joked that dentists who “weren’t trained to be Buddhists monks have hope.” Slow down, listen and be present with your patients, he offered. “You will learn more, they will appreciate it, and it will show in the quality of your work.”
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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