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Are You In Compliance?

Tips to manage uncooperative patients who refuse to follow COVID-19 safety protocols

Quick Summary:

Recommendations on how to prepare staff for patients who refuse to follow safety protocols when visiting the dental office. Guidance includes tips on effective communication methods, staff training and making reasonable accommodations.

Safety protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic have sparked heated conversations over the last few months, particularly over the requirement to wear face masks in public in California. Several incidents of people entering businesses and refusing to follow the companies’ rules have appeared in the news.

As a practice owner with increased safety protocols in place, you want to consider what steps to take if your team is faced with a patient who refuses to comply with the practice’s safety precautions, such as wearing a mask, mandatory temperature checks or any other regulations intended to protect patients and staff.

The following recommendations can help you and your team prepare for difficult conversations and effectively de-escalate tension with uncooperative patients.

Notify patients of practice’s increased safety protocols before their appointment

Limit the chances of a potential conflict by informing patients of the office’s updated protocols in advance. Patients need to know what to expect when they arrive for their appointment. Providing advance notice will allow them to cancel or reschedule the appointment if they don’t agree with the practice’s guidelines.

Use appointment reminders via email, text message or phone call to communicate the office’s new safety protocols beforehand. Patients should also be able to find the policies related to COVID-19 on the practice’s website and social media pages.

Then, reinforce the policies by displaying notices on the front door of the dental office, at the front desk and any other necessary locations where the signage will be clear and visible to patients who arrive for their appointments.

Train employees on how to respond to a patient’s refusal

Provide employee training on conflict resolution and develop a plan on how to respond to patients who refuse to follow the practice’s safety policies. Employers should make it clear that employees are not expected to enforce the protocols but should request and encourage patients to comply.

The training should also prepare employees to assess and recognize when a situation is escalating so they will know when to call a designated team member, such as an office manager, to intervene and work with the patient toward the best solution. Having a chain of command can also be reassuring to staff who may not be comfortable handling a difficult patient.

Have a plan in place if a patient becomes irate and threatens the safety of employees. Identify an area for team members to go if they feel they are in danger, such as a room that locks from the inside or has a phone to call for help.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance offers strategies on how businesses can limit workplace violence against employees. 

Be open to providing reasonable accommodations

If a patient believes they may have a medical concern that prevents them from following the safety protocols, practice owners should be flexible and open to providing reasonable accommodations. Work with the patient to find a plausible solution such as:

  • Postponing the appointment
  • Scheduling an appointment time that accommodates the patient’s needs
  • Having the patient wait in the car until it’s time for their treatment
  • Keeping the patient away from other patients

The Face Coverings and Disability Accommodations resource in the CDA Back to Practice center provides guidance on how to serve patients who request a face mask exemption.

Let employees know they are supported

If an employee believes they are not receiving enough support in responding to disgruntled patients, the employee might be prompted to quit and possibly file a claim for a hostile or unsafe work environment. Practice owners are advised to update workplace-violence policies to cover nonemployee violence and inform employees of the practice’s procedure for reporting customer threats and aggression.

Overall, patients should be reminded that the increased protocols are not in place to make them uncomfortable but to protect their health and create a safe work environment for team members. Read the CDA article “How to get patients back in the dental office amid the COVID-19 pandemic” for additional tips on ensuring patients are informed and prepared for your practice’s new protocols ahead of their next appointment.