The Dental Defence Union is advising dental professionals to brush up their communication skills to help avoid complaints.
Responding to news from the Dental Complaints Service (DCS) that complaints about private dental treatment rose by 17% in the year to April 2012, the Dental Defence Union (DDU) says that in its experience, many complaints involve communication problems of one sort or another.
The DCS reports that it received more than 1,800 complaints about private treatment between May 2011 and April 2012. The most frequent complaints by patients were:
• Not being made aware of the prognosis of treatment or alternative treatment options
• That the information they were given was unclear and being ignored when they raised concerns.1
• The report also found that the most common complaints were about fillings, root canals, crowns and dentures, with many cases resulting in an apology, a refund or offer of remedial treatment.
LeoBriggs, DDU dento-legal adviser, said: ‘The findings from the DCS report echo our own experience about the importance of clear communication, both in terms of helping to avoid complaints arising in the first place and when addressing and resolving concerns to patients’ satisfaction.
‘We do not believe the rising number of complaints indicates any decline in dental standards. More likely it is due to people’s greater expectations of what can be achieved by dental treatment and being more willing to complain when things do not go to plan.
‘There is much food for thought in the report however, particularly about the reasons patients complain. In the DDU’s experience, problems with communication are often at the heart of complaints. This can range from the perceived attitude of the dental professional or other members of the team through to confusion about the basis on which the treatment was provided and the fees charged.
He added: ‘It is important to listen to patients’ concerns, share information with them in a way they can understand and give them a chance to ask questions. Patients should be warned about the risks of any procedure and be told about any alternative treatments, particularly if they are having cosmetic treatment. It is vital to be honest and open with patients when things have gone wrong and to apologise.”
• Listen carefully to patients – make eye contact and nod or say ‘I understand’ occasionally so patient know you are listening to them
• Try not to interrupt
• Remember that actions speak louder than words – look out for signs that a patient might be anxious about treatment and keep your body language open when dealing with patients who are unhappy about treatment. For example, avoid folding your arms
• Avoid jargon – try not to use technical terms and large amounts of clinical information when explaining treatment options
• Be courteous – even if it is clear that a patient is unhappy with an aspect of their treatment, be polite and professional and try not to act defensively
• Respond quickly – dealing with a problem swiftly can help to minimise the likelihood of a complaint escalating and can help to ensure that patients feel their concerns are being taken seriously
• Be ready to apologise if things have gone wrong – consider offering remedial treatment free of charge, a refund of fees or other goodwill gesture. This can often help to resolve a complaint
• Learn from mistakes – consider putting in place a system for recording comments and suggestions anonymously so that issues can be identified before they become complaints.
1. Dental Complaints Service Annual Review 2011-12, 2 October 2012, www.dentalcomplaints.org.uk.