By Casey Stoutamire
Recently, I’ve seen an uptick in calls from members asking how to deal with disgruntled patients who are making them and members of their team feel unsafe. Unfortunately, due to frustrations from the pandemic, political polarization, economic pressures (and the list could go on and on), dental offices are becoming more susceptible to violence that has been seen in other healthcare settings. The violence in a dental office can be anything from patients (or their family members) verbally berating dentists and their teams to physical threats or even shootings.
You might think this type of violence won’t happen in your office, but don’t let those be “famous last words.” It is time for dentists to make workplace safety — including the safety of your team and patients — a priority. So, what can you do to make sure you and your team are as safe as possible? First, train yourself and your team for how to speak with patients. This seems basic, but it is one of the most important tools with which you can empower your team. Due to the pressures mentioned above, a patient’s fuse could be much shorter and it is important for you and your team to focus on their concerns, listen carefully and respond accordingly. The focus should be on conflict resolution. Often, the patient just needs to vent and feel as though he or she is being heard. You and your staff know your patients and can identify “problem patients” so the entire team can be alerted to when they are on the schedule. You might also want to consider formal conflict resolution training for you and your team. Available for attendance at the 2023 Florida Dental Convention, “Communication Solutions: Attitudes, Breakdowns and Conflict Resolutions” is a course that will illuminate techniques when it comes to keeping an overall positive work environment.
Second, ensure that your office is physically secure. Are there employee-only entry points that are kept locked? Is there only one entry/exit for patients/non-employees? What is the security for front desk staff? Do you have security cameras? How are your treatment rooms laid out and positioned? I encourage you to involve your team in this exercise so they feel engaged in the process. Also, make sure your team remains vigilant and alert of their surroundings. Do they notice a patient in the parking lot long after their appointment or when they are not even on the schedule? You need to be alerted to these issues so you can handle them accordingly.
Finally, if you do have a patient who is threatening you or your team, you should dismiss them from the practice immediately. If they threaten violence or your team does not want them in the practice, you need to take this seriously as you can never be too cautious in these situations. I suggest alerting law enforcement and making a report. This is especially important if the patient has already been verbally or physically abusive to your team.
As always, your Florida Dental Association is here to help. Please do not hesitate to call us to discuss these delicate issues and talk through your specific scenarios.
Casey Stoutamire is director of third party payers for the Florida Dental Association. She can be reached at 850.681.3629.