• Seona

He Punched a hole through the wall!!

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

I was starting in the dental Industry - a self-conscious 18-year-old. I had been a dental receptionist for just two weeks, and this day was almost my last.

My first day left alone on the desk, and I was quietly determined not to stuff anything up! Back then, the computer software systems were very laborious at best, but I was (and still am) a perfectionist and will work on something until I have mastered it. Often with laser focus to the exclusion of all else.

Unfortunately, I had not received any training on handling patients, especially any that displayed signs of nervousness, frustration or even anger. If I were to go back to that day with the knowledge I have today, things would have turned out very differently.

I say this because even though the way I handled this patient was embarrassingly inept, there is a valuable lesson to be learnt.

What happened

I had squeezed a patient in for an emergency toothache.

When he arrived, it was apparent he was in a lot of pain and, in hindsight, very nervous about attending our practice. I handed him the New Patient forms and told him to take a seat.

"How long will it be before I get seen?" he asked.

I promptly replied, "well, we pushed you in, so he'll see you as soon as he can" My mind was focused on the steps I needed to do to ensure this patient details were correct in the system.

The patient sat quietly for a few minutes before his leg started tapping the floor, which I found pretty distracting.

After ten minutes, the patient again asked, "How long before I get seen?"

To which I again replied that I didn't know.

The patient blew out a big breath and started pacing the reception area. At this point, I realised that something wasn't right, but I did not have the training or skills to know why and what could be done to calm the situation down.

I decided to stay quiet and get back to entering his details into the computer. I realised that he had left some information off his form.

"oh, you didn't put your phone number down. Can I have it please?"

The patient froze mid-pace.

He turned to me and said, "I don't appreciate you asking me out loud like that in front of other people! Don't you believe in Confidentiality?!"

The following patient had just arrived and taken a seat.

"But I need your contact details, or we won't be able to see you", I stated.

The look he gave me.

He turned and took three steps towards me, turned and threw his fist so hard at the wall that his fist went right through the plaster!

I was in shock. I did not know what to do or say. I just stood there numb.

The patient was just as shocked at what he did. He turned away and left the surgery without a word.

The Follow-up

After the patient had left, I sat at my desk shaking.

What just happened? Is the practice going to blame me? Will I have to pay for the damages? How do I explain this?

The other patient that had witnessed the whole thing came and crouched down in front of me and held my hand, telling me that I was ok. (I am still very appreciative of this woman's kindness that day)

The dentist and nurse were still completely unaware of what had happened.

When they did hear the story and see the hole in the wall, they chuckled! Like it was a juicy story that they could now share with their friends and colleges.

No, follow up action was taken at all. No one asked how I was, and to the best of my knowledge, no one called the patient either. Nothing was reported, recorded, or even said to me.

A week later, the practice had fixed the hole in the wall. I still had not so much as received an "are you ok?"

A week later, I left that practice, as even then, I could see that the practice did not care about its patients, let alone its team members.

It was almost my last day in the dental Industry.

What should have happened

This incident would never have happened if the practice had given proper training. The pressure is too often for a practice to hire someone ASAP that appropriate guidance and training fall by the wayside.

Let me share with you some steps that should have happened that day.

DO Introduce yourself, and let the patient know that you have passed his information to the dentist. Something like:

"Good morning Mr X; I'm Seona. I took your call earlier and want to assure you that I have discussed with Dr Y your symptoms, and he is looking forward to being able to help you shortly. "

DO NOT ask how he is. You know how he is; he is in pain and does not want to be there!

DO NOT say that you have squeezed him in (even if you have) as it gives the patient the idea that he is not valued, that he will receive a "rush" job and that he is an inconvenience to the practice.

Do give the patient time updates – a good way of finding out how long the dentist will be is to come up with hand signals that you and the DA can use in secret, or some dental software have instant messaging that the staff could use. The last thing you want to do is leave a patient waiting without any indication of time or interrupt the dentist when he is with a patient (staff should NEVER do neither one!)

DO be aware of a patient's body language and respond accordingly.

DO remain calm.

Do focus on the patient – everything else can wait and be completed later.

DO NOT be dismissive of how the patient is feeling.

DO follow up with team members involved and ensure proper resources are available if your team members need extra help.

DO follow up with the patient involved.

DO keep accurate and detailed notes and records.

DO NOT brush it away and act like it did not happen – or next time, the outcome could be a lot worse than a hole in the wall and a lost patient!

Patients, Team members and Doctors all have the right to a safe working environment. Within a dental practice, emotions often run high with patients due to nervousness, anxiety or pain. Top that off with dental staff being stressed, pushed for time and not provided with adequate training. It's like a powder keg waiting to go off!

Every Dental practice should have a Policy and Procedure in place and provide adequate and continuous training to all its team members on dealing with Disruptive and Dangerous patients.


If you need someone to review, rewrite, create or Implement new Policy and Procedures throughout your practice to enhance the patients overall care, then CLICK HERE and book your FREE 30-minute Discovery Call with me today!

#dentalteam #practicemanagement #dentaloffice #training #WHS #systems #dentalmanagement #angrypatients

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