Practice Management |5 min read

Improving Oral Health in Your Community – Part 3

Real World Insights from AADOM Authors - Gabriela Solano

Tips for Creating a Practice Environment Where Patients Feel Safe, Seen, and Welcome

When working on our annual planning and strategy meetings, my team always starts by going to our values. What is important for the doctor, the clinical team, and the admin team? In our practice, the priority has always been to provide patients with high-quality service and care. It is important for us to spend time getting to know our patients and to give them an informed, comprehensive diagnosis and patient-centered treatment plan. We use our active listening skills and read between the lines to fully understand what it is that the patient wants and needs.

Our goal has always been to serve all, but our heart is in providing the underserved with the care they deserve. Family, dignity, and empathy are a few of our core values. If the values you uphold in your practice align with ours, then you will want to be sure to help patients feel comfortable at your dental practice.

Here are some ways to do that.

Hire Staff Members Who Represent the Communities You Serve

Representation matters! Patients are more likely to feel comfortable and understood when they see themselves reflected in the staff. Take a look at your community and your team. Are you adequately representing the people you are serving? If not, how might you reach out?

Think about where your trained workforce comes from or how you could be part of that training. Maybe your practice could form a partnership with a nearby school that trains medical professionals. Maybe you could reach out to local high schools for career education or offer internships.

Invest in a bilingual staff member. There’s nothing like being able to express yourself in your native language. According to a 2019 survey, 67.8 million US residents speak a language other than English at home. Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Arabic are the top five languages spoken in the U.S., aside from English. Identify what languages are mostly spoken in your community and try to include bilingual staff members.

Exercise Empathy

This goes to all patients, of course, but it is particularly important that we keep in mind the struggles and lack of access people from various minority or marginalized communities have had to healthcare. They are often receivers of disregard and misunderstanding, so it is very understandable that they will be wary of dental teams.

Examine your own potential bias. It’s hard to think of ourselves as prejudiced, but we all have prejudices and biases that were ingrained in our minds since we were young. It takes hard work to become aware of and change them.

Make sure to be aware of yourself when you’re interacting with a patient who is different from yourself. Are you feeling defensive, annoyed, or confused? There could be something going on in your subconscious that needs to be addressed.

If possible, invest in inclusivity training. It helps to foster a sense of belonging which can lead to a more welcoming and respectful workplace, increased productivity, and better collaboration. It can also help address unconscious biases and stereotypes that can impact the interactions with patients and between staff members in the dental office. And lastly, it can help prevent discrimination and harassment, which can have serious legal consequences.

Be Welcoming

Again, this applies to all patients, but patients of color, non-English speakers, and members of sexual and gender minorities are usually left aside in this category because of mistrust and language barriers. Make an effort to greet all patients with eye contact, a warm smile, and an honest attempt at establishing a connection.

Consider playing music in the office. My brother used to say there’s no drug more powerful than music. Music is a universal language and can soothe an anxiety-filled soul. Open your musical taste to international music. There’s something about listening to music in other languages that tells patients you welcome diversity.

Update your consent and acknowledgment forms. Most state dental associations have forms in multiple languages that are available and ready to download and use. It shows your patient that you care when you are prepared to offer their consent forms in their preferred language. You can also make sure these forms are gender-inclusive and allow patients to share information that is relevant to their unique family or living situation.

I am very proud of the work we do at our practice. We love each and every single one of our patients. We have been blessed with a wonderful team who is caring, nurturing, and empathetic. They are always eager to learn and grow in their professional and personal lives. When days are hard, we remind each other that we are here to serve others by upholding our values and honoring the responsibility we have to our community.

I hope these tips can help you bring awareness, empathy, and a refreshed focus on service to your practice. I wish you success in making small changes to help your patients feel seen and safe, and to cultivate that sense of belonging that can free them from the poor oral health cycle.

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About the Author

Headshot of Gabriela Solano

Gabriela Solano, originally from Mexico, has made Northern California her new home. With a strong passion for dental office management, Gabriela combines her expertise in the field with her dedication to advocating for immigrants’ and minorities’ rights.

Gabriela and her husband proudly own and operate a thriving dental practice. Their unwavering commitment lies in fostering a welcoming environment for patients and delivering exceptional quality dental care. Through their clinic, they strive to create a sense of belonging and provide top-notch oral health services to their valued patients.

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