Establish Trust with Your Patients and Colleagues – A Tried and True Formula for Success  

Trust is the building block to any relationship, whether between you and your team, or you and your patients. And as often as I’m sure you’ve heard those words, as much as those words have been drilled into you over the years, how much significance do they really hold anymore? It’s kind of like hearing the words ‘excellent customer service’ or ‘proper communication’. After a while, they start to sound less like a strategy and more like a platitude. 

But trust really is a tried-and-true formula for success. It really can change how your practice operates, it can allow for long-lasting relationships with patients and colleagues, and further, can change how your team sees you and the goals you set. 

Though, understanding exactly how to establish trust is something else entirely.  It’s time to ask yourself – does your team trust you and vice versa? What about your patients? Do they trust you and your team?  

If by answering these questions you are either not sure, or a part of you does feel that trust is lacking between you, your team and your patients, the best question to ask is why? And what can you and your team do to build back that trust and create a solid foundation for everyone. 

In this post, I am going to break trust in a dental clinic down into three components, including how trust effects each one and what you can do in each role to better establish trust – as a leader, a colleague and a health professional.  

Trust as a Leader 

If you’re the leader of your team, whether as the dental owner or the office manager, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to establishing trust. Gaining and maintaining trust as a leader requires time, patience, and consistency. Trust is earned, not just given, even to a leader.  

The leader is the influencer, the one who calls the shots and makes the rules. But with that responsibility comes the point that many leaders tend to forget: a leader must lead by example. If you want your staff to be on time, then you must be on time. If you want your staff to follow a certain rule or guideline, then you must follow that same rule or guideline. Putting forth a rule or guideline but not following through is an attack to your credibility and your trust as a leader.  

As a leader it is also incumbent upon you to communicate effectively with your team regarding all matters, big and small, that might affect the entire practice as a whole. Telling just one or two people and hoping they get the message to the rest of the team (with inevitable distortion) can lead to gossip in the clinic and can develop a deep erosion of trust over time. 

Be honest. If things are going well, be honest and celebrate with the entire team; same goes if things are not going well. It is important to be honest while also taking into account the feelings of your team members.  

Trust as a leader depends on your consistency to lead by example, your patience with those on your team, and time spent building your credibility by being honest and practicing effective communication.  

Trust as a Colleague 

Speaking from experience, being a good colleague and gaining the trust of those around you requires a different mindset. Many times, I’ve heard colleagues say that because they possess a certain role, they don’t feel it’s their responsibility to help others in their roles. Especially in a smaller clinic, the idea that you are static in one role and one role only leaves behind the very idea of ‘team’.  

As a team member, if you have the knowledge to help out where you can, you definitely should. Trust is established by being reliable as a team member. If you offer help but don’t follow through and this becomes a pattern, trust can be lost as a result. If you can’t help, be honest. Practice empathy for each other and provide support when needed.  

I consider the team I work with as family and have made it my duty to help them out wherever and whenever I can. Obviously, there are limits to what I can do and what I’ve been trained to do, but if I can help in some capacity, I will.     

Trust as a Health Professional 

When it comes to your patients, trust is essential to keep them coming back. A friend of mine was loyal to his dentist until a month ago when he decided to seek out another. Why? The procedures usually went well and with minimal pain. The prices were reasonable. He even said so on multiple occasions. So why did he leave? Loss of trust.  

Patients just inherently trust that health professionals have their best interests at heart. So, when my friend made an appointment to see his dentist only for his dentist to cancel, again and again, his trust eroded. The last straw was the receptionist telling him that his insurance was accepted only to find out after the procedure, that his insurance did not cover it. Instead of the office owning their mistake, they insisted he had to fix it and pay out of pocket somehow, giving him no options that might make this devastating blow easier.  

Trust is a delicate commodity that most health professionals are treated to almost immediately by most patients. Maintaining this trust requires you to be honest about what you can provide and what you can’t, it requires you to be empathetic to a patient’s situation while doing all you can to ease their stress, and maintaining trust requires strong and effective communication, whether by email, phone, or text. The more communication, the better, especially when it’s valuable to the patient, such as patient education for a certain procedure. 

Actively listening to your patient and empathizing with their struggles not only maintains trust but builds on it, giving that patient a reason to come back with less fear and stress each time. 

For more resources on establishing trust in your dental practice, check out the links below.  


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