Patient anxiety is of significant concern for all healthcare providers, especially dentists. According to researchers, anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of adults have some degree of dental anxiety, whether it be mild or severe. This results in missed appointments and a lack of good continuing dental care for patients who might feel fear.
Deferred appointments and even avoidance of necessary treatments make your team’s jobs tougher. It also makes the experience more anxiety-inducing for the already worried patient. Soothe any feelings of unease and provide quality care when you implement strategic, consistent communication and build a patient satisfaction strategy.
Some of the most important things dentists can do to reduce anxiety and increase patient satisfaction revolve around communication.
Clear communication, anxiety, and patient satisfaction
In this blog, we’ll cover the ins and outs of how you can communicate better with your anxious patients.
- Automated patient reminders
- Follow-up messaging
- Personalized chat functions
- Close listening and willingness to answer questions.
When you communicate clearly, your anxious patients will better understand what to expect, when to expect it, where to be, and all the small details that might trip them up.
Straightforward communication helps ease anxiety for several reasons, leading to increased patient satisfaction.
- Equip patients with a sense of control and preparedness
- Supply patients with information they might be too shy to ask for
- Engage patients on various channels and ensure all their questions are answered
All this works together to create an environment of transparency and openness in which fearful patients can feel comfortable and, better yet—look forward to returning!
Here are all the resources you need to build a solid strategy that centers around exceptional communication and increases patient satisfaction.
The importance of understanding anxiety
Before we get into the thick of it, it’s important to address anxiety as a real condition. A recent study by the Angus Reid Institute found that nearly 40 percent of Canadians felt anxious. Anxiety remains prevalent across nations, as well. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that over 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder. And that’s just in their day-to-day. A visit to the dentist may trigger more traumas, and anxiety can be present on many levels for patients.
That’s why acknowledging anxiety and helping mitigate it with clear communication matters. The methods here can help your patients want to return to your practice because they feel cared for and communicated with. It’s important to address their needs and concerns in an authentic way
When it comes to understanding anxiety, there are a few things to look and listen for:
- Flushed cheeks
- Excessive sweating
- Mentions of a fear of blood, drills, or past traumatic dental experiences
- Shallow breathing
- Shaky voice
- Consistently missed, canceled, or rescheduled appointments
- Reluctance throughout a procedure or cleaning
In a cruel twist of fate, anxious patients might be too anxious to tell you they are nervous about a visit to your practice. That’s why it matters that you understand what to look for. That way, you can kindly inquire about any fears they might have.
Or, you can detect the onset of anxiety and panic attacks well before something fully sets in. This allows you to adjust your care, slow down, and talk through it in a communicative way
Pre-appointment communication for patient satisfaction
Start the process and establish yourself as a trusted individual and a safe place for anxious patients right off the bat. This begins even before the first cleaning and procedure. Incorporating how you deal with anxiety into your marketing material can be helpful. By being upfront that you understand and acknowledge that dental visits can be scary for some, you’ll open a line of communication and attract patients who might need a little extra care.
Offer pre-appointment consultations for those who seek them. This could be really helpful for anxious patients whose worries revolve around the unknown.
Pre-appointment consultations can include:
- Brief tours of your practice
- Meeting your team and getting to know a little bit about the healthcare providers they’ll be working with
- Q & A sessions that cover the details of cleaning or any procedures they might need
- Offering further educational material that patients can take home and peruse between now and the actual appointment
The great thing about pre-appointment consultations is that they begin the communication process early on. You’ll learn to know individual communication styles and how to explain ideas best, reach patients, and assuage their fears.
Perks of the pre-appointment
In today’s day and age of modern technology, your pre-appointment consults can be totally online! Consider creating a virtual tour of your practice, pre-recorded intros from the team, and providing a host of educational materials online. This saves you time and your patients a trip to your practice! Online information is great—but be sure to offer the opportunity to meet in person. That kind of personalized connection may help certain anxieties, and a face-to-face meeting goes a long way!
Getting to know your patients with a pre-consult will also give you insight into things that might trigger their fear. According to healthaffairs.org, understanding the underpinnings or triggers that bring up panic and anxiety can help dentists better care for their patients.
Lastly, a pre-appointment consult can help increase communication and patient satisfaction by addressing any needed pain management. There are extensive studies detailing the options for pain relief, including psychological and pharmacological interventions. If a fear of pain is a significant factor for an anxious patient, the pre-appointment consult will let you know.
Get to know your patients, understand their anxieties, and allow them to become familiar with you during a pre-appointment session. You’ll start strong with this kind of clear communication, and boosted patient satisfaction will follow.
In between appointments is still a time for patient satisfaction
Continue communicating with your patients after the pre-appointment consult and before they enter your office. A patient-centric approach that emphasizes patient satisfaction, even when they’re not at the dentist’s, can demystify the process and enhance their overall experience. This continued communication can also address patient concerns about their next visit and give you the opportunity to continue to get to know them and address their unique needs.
Communicate with your patients between appointments by:
- Automated appointment reminders delivered via text, phone call, or email—whatever they prefer
- Make yourself available online through chat software. Here, you can answer questions, reschedule appointments, and more
- Providing educational material in the form of PDFs, interactive videos, infographics, peer-reviewed studies, or age-appropriate book and TV recommendations for pediatric patients
Continued communication is vital for anxious patients because studies show that avoidance very commonly accompanies dental anxiety. When patients feel worried about going to the dentist, they simply don’t go.
Building patient satisfaction during the appointment
You and your team have done all the heavy lifting thus far through pre-appointment consults, continued communication with patients, appointment reminders, providing educational material, and more. Now that you’ve gotten your anxious patient in the door, it’s showtime! Keep up the hard work when you put real effort into making every single procedure calm and organized. Your patients will thank you and their satisfaction will show that. You have the power and unique toolkit to transform an anxiety-inducing environment into one of reassurance and comfort. All it takes is a delicate balance of communication and patient-centered care.
Create a calming environment. This subconsciously helps anxious patients feel soothed and safe. Research shows that all the senses play a role in crafting a relaxed atmosphere.
Improve the holistic feel and mood of your office by:
- Keeping it clean and well-organized
- Try to reduce wait times at your practice – anxiety often increases when patients need to wait!
- Stock the waiting room with recent and relevant magazines or other media
- Offer brain games like crossword puzzles, sudoku, word search, and more. An excellent distraction tactic for nervous minds
- Consider incorporating live plants in your decor. Science shows some greenery can boost moods!
- Lavender is a universally calming aroma, but keep it light for scent-sensitive patients
- Maintain a stable and comfortable temperature. Around 20–24 °C seems to be the well-agreed-upon Goldilocks zone!
All of these small efforts communicate to your patients that you care and are actively thinking about their physical well-being when they’re at your practice. They might seem subtle, but the come together in a powerful way to grow patient satisfaction for the positive.
Communication remains the cornerstone of alleviating anxiety during dental procedures. This study shows that “informational control,” when the patients know what is going on, may reduce dental stress. It is mostly safe to assume people want to hear what is happening, but it remains important that you ask patients about their desired communication level. All anxieties are different, and a sensory overload between the work being done and information being taken in could be overwhelming for some.
For those who do want to be in the know, here are some helpful tips:
- Explain each step in layman’s terms as the procedure unfolds. This demystifies the process and turns the unknown into the manageable
- Elucidate the purpose of each instrument that you will be using and describe the sensations that might be felt
- Offer visual aids
- Check-in regularly to see how they are feeling and what they might need or like
This open dialogue quells apprehensions, and empowers patients to anticipate and cope with any potential discomfort. Use a kind and informative tone to influence the patient’s perception of the procedure’s complexity or invasiveness. Be truthful, but gently so.
Patients feel vulnerable during their time in the chair. Your ability to tune in, empathize, and tailor your approach to individual needs makes a world of difference and increases patient satisfaction. Communicating during procedures also builds a foundation of trust and establishes a collaborative relationship. Instilling a sense of control in your patients can mitigate anxiety and help them throughout the process.
Make your practice a paradise
Much like your waiting room, the exam room’s environment is just as important. Create a peaceful place for anxious patients.
Here are some aspects to consider when revamping your workspace:
- Installing TVs for distraction. Anxious patients will appreciate something else to do.
- Providing noise-cancelling, sanitized headphones so those with sensory issues don’t have to hear drills or your other tools at work
- If it’s within your scope, some dentists even offer therapy dogs that can sit with patients during appointments! Pups like Gryphon and Rigby are true heroes and hard workers
- Weighted blankets reduce anxiety according to limited early research
- Allow patients to have a support person in the room, like a friend or family member
- Allow patients to listen to music
- Ask if patients would like white noise or other soothing sounds played throughout the procedure
- An eye mask or sunglasses can provide relaxing darkness away from harsh lights needed for dental work
All your efforts in opening avenues of dialogue and cultivating a calming practice work together to build trust and empower your anxious patients. When they see that their concerns are valued, and their needs are addressed, patient satisfaction is amplified.
Ultimately, this is great for everyone involved. After all, your patients will want to return for their next appointment because you’ve been so communicative and caring. With more regular visits to your practice and an attentive eye to their needs, caring for anxious patients becomes easier because their oral health issues are less complicated (thank you, six-month cleanings!), so their anxiety over what to expect diminishes. It’s a win-win for all involved. Enduring provider-patient relationships results in better patient satisfaction.
Post-appointment communication acts for patient satisfaction
Congratulations—you’ve successfully cared for an anxious patient from pre-appointment consult to cleaning (or procedure) and you’ve covered all the time in-between. Keep up with that communication! As we established, a consistent stream of communication is important, and there’s no time like the present.
Anxious patients may be more challenging when you wait to reach them, so follow up within a few days. You can even ask when they want to be contacted within reason. They may need a break from dentistry, but you should still reach out by asking for feedback and making sure they are doing OK.
Soliciting feedback in this situation is powerful because it gives anxious patients a chance to communicate with you. And it gives you the opportunity to take in the communication and translate it into fundamental changes in your practice.
How and why to ask for reviews:
- Patient engagement software can send automated prompts asking for a review of their experience
- Feedback can be fully open to whatever they would like to say or offer options in the form of a survey
- Welcome both positive and negative reviews. That way, you know what you’re doing well and can identify places for improvement
- Positive reviews should be pushed to social media when possible. Google Reviews, Yelp, and Facebook are all powerful ways to communicate with the larger market that you are an expert in providing care for anxious patients
- When you use the information in reviews to make a real change, your patients see that. That makes them feel heard and seen. This is a powerful indicator that you care about communication, especially for anxious patients who might feel ignored or brushed aside.
In addition to reviews and feedback, this is another great period of time to follow up about appointment reminders or any aftercare. A phone call, text message, or email just asking how they feel can go a long way. When you make yourself available for further questions, you also indicate to anxious patients that you care about their wellbeing.
Don’t be shy about letting them know not to be shy, either! Social anxiety often manifests as a fear of communication because the sufferer doesn’t want to “bug someone.” This is an excellent opportunity to grow patient satisfaction by saying that your door, or phone line, is always open to them.
How can Intiveo help?
Ensuring patient satisfaction and reducing patient anxiety can be challenging, but crafting a communication plan is much easier when you have the right tools!
- Automated appointment reminders
- Chat software
- Automatic feedback and review prompts
- Text and email integration for streamlined communication
- Educational resources found online!
- An easy-to-use platform
- Follow-up communication via email or text
We can help you deliver exceptional care and nurture the long-lasting relationships that let your practice thrive. Book a meeting today to learn more.