Dentistry is an extremely stressful profession both physically and psychologically. Patients have varying personalities which are usually fine until a line is crossed. Inappropriate behavior is experienced and defined differently depending on the person, but most would agree that poor manners aren’t to be tolerated.
There should always be mutual respect between patients and clinicians. Deciding what is and isn’t appropriate must be decided beforehand by the Doctor(s), Office Manager, and all team members. Each person has their idea of what is acceptable, and everyone should weigh in with their opinion. Appointing one person in charge of dealing with patients who have behaved improperly is necessary, and it’s usually the doctor or the office manager.
Some common inappropriate behaviors include:
- Racial or sexual comments or slurs- Any comment meant to degrade another human being regarding their race or gender must be dealt with immediately.
- Inappropriate flirtatious banter- Flirting is usually more complementary than sexual comments and slurs. The receiver can mistake it as friendly, but it can quickly escalate into a dangerous situation.
- Demeaning a team member – Regardless of intent, demeaning another person is very hurtful and can negatively affect self-esteem. Unfortunately, it does occur, and it must be addressed.
- Physical interaction- If a patient ever puts their hands on anyone in the office in a hostile or sexual manner, they must be dismissed from the practice immediately. A formal notice to the patient is mandatory, and the practice is legally obligated to be available to them on an emergency basis for 30-45 days to give them time to find a new dentist.
If a patient does commit an inexcusable act, it’s best to escort them to a private area with a witness. Ask them if they’re aware of the behavior or comment that offended a team member. Let them talk and explain why they acted in such a manner. Make them aware that a team member was affected negatively by the situation and that it won’t be tolerated in your practice. However, keep in mind that some people are very direct and they may not be aware of the offense.
Although awkward, dealing with these situations is part of the profession. By being open and direct, you should be able to address the problem and prevent future indiscretions.