How to Ease Patients’ Fear and Anxiety Caused by the Pandemic
As we enter the month of October, COVID-19 still rages on, changing how we work, how we shop, and how we live. In many provinces (mine included), masks have been made mandatory in all public places. No matter where you go now, be it a grocery store, a bank, or a dental office, you need to be equipped with a mask.
Because of this change to the guidelines, wearing masks everywhere is not the new norm for us here yet. The question is why the change? The answer, unfortunately, is that COVID-19 cases are rising. This is not just happening in Manitoba, either. Cases have been rising all over the country. As a result of this, fear and anxieties are spiking as well.
This post is going to provide a few COVID-19 updates in the country, including what we all should be preparing for, and how we can keep ourselves and each other safe during this crisis. But the focus here will be on dental anxieties and fears only compounded by the virus and how your dental or hygiene office can ease those anxieties and fears with a few basic tips.
We were at a point where normal seemed to be within our reach. Though there was still a ways to go, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Now, with cases rising, that light is drawing further and further away.
Just some highlights:
“Canada is experiencing numbers of COVID-19 cases not seen since the height of the pandemic in the spring. In some provinces, they are even higher.”
Ontario – 700 new cases in a day
Quebec – 800 new cases in a day
In addition to Quebec and Ontario, BC and Alberta both have recorded daily cases in the hundreds as well. In addition, we are heading into flu season, a dangerous time as now we are coping with both flu season and the pandemic at the same time.
Why is it important to know this? It’s not a scare tactic. The more information you have, the better off you’ll be to fight back. Because the truth of the matter is this: we’re all scared. And the worse it gets and the higher the case numbers are, the more terrified we become.
As a dental patient, I felt that familiar sense of fear in going to see my dentist because of the higher case numbers. Other patients feel the same way.
So, what can you do to ease those fears? What can your practice do to help existing and prospective patients feel better about following through with their already confirmed appointments? What would make you feel better as a patient?
Don’t Ignore COVID-19, instead, talk about it
Don’t ignore COVID. In your promotions, on your website, and on your social media platforms, don’t forget to include that COVID exists. The worst thing you can do is pretend there is no pandemic.
Second, make it clear what you’re doing to protect not just your patients but yourself and your team as well. I learned about my appointment by text, and in the text, I was told what exactly the office was doing to keep me and others safe.
Third, provide a pre-screening. The office let me know that I would be taking a pre-screening test over the phone before the appointment in the form of a questionnaire.
Forth, keep your waiting room as empty as possible. My dentist let me know that I could wait in my car for them to text me once my room was ready.
Don’t shy away from having an important conversation. Your patients deserve to know what you’re doing to keep them and your team safe. “Transparency and over-communication for patients who show signs of nervousness and fear will help them feel safer and take the edge off their anxiety.”
Keep the team informed with training and with facts
Your team will help in providing that calm for patients who come in with fear and anxiety over this pandemic. Everything you’re doing to protect your patients should be communicated to your team. Everyone should be on the same page and relaying the same information, as changes occur.
Training and safety meetings right now are essential, according to Dentistry Today’s article. “Implementing training programs or frequent safety meetings with your staff members can drastically boost their confidence when dealing with a patient who has dental anxiety.” And even more essential is implementing safety procedures to address those dental anxieties and fears.
It is also doubly important to stick to the facts. I have already come across a business distributing misinformation to their employees, statements that had been debunked months ago and yet are still spreading about as fast as the virus.
I have mentioned this before, but that doesn’t make it any less important to do. Whether you still allow patients into your waiting room or not, whether you still print receipts and statements, or you still send appointment cards, minimizing touchpoints is still essential to reducing anxiety and fear in your patients.
I’ll be honest, when I was at the oral surgeon’s office, I felt incredibly nervous when they handed me a clipboard and pen. Luckily, I was able to fill out the paperwork in my car, but the first thing I did was sanitize my hands before doing so. Then, after handing the paperwork and pen in, I sanitized my hands again.
Patients more scared than me might not have bothered, they easily might have left or made a comment that they didn’t feel safe.
To avoid patients feeling this way, take some time to assess your office and remove those touchpoints.
Look at the options for trading paper charts in for digital and remove the touchpoints of charts and file cabinets in your office.
When it comes to statements and receipts, use email instead of paper.
And when your patient is new, give them the option to fill out the paperwork online as opposed to filling it out on a clipboard which has been touched by many, including those on your team.
How can we stay safe and keep others safe during this pandemic/flu season?
The pandemic is still here, and in some cases, worse than it was in the Spring. But we can do better, especially during the flu season. Remember to follow all safety guidelines. Wear a mask, avoid crowds, wash your hands regularly, practice social distancing, and stay home when you can. Most importantly, relay this very important and life-saving information to your patients, to your friends, and to your family members. Let’s work together to end this.