Communicating with patients of different ethnicities

A dental practice welcomes many people through its doors with different backgrounds and ethnicities. It is important for the dentist and staff to understand different communication methods.

“This is always important, but even more important with patients from different multicultural backgrounds. A patient who speaks limited English is already nervous going to the office and talking to the staff. If the staff is able to make the patient feel comfortable, then they have created a patient for life,” said Practice Advisor Marcela Truxal.

Truxal, who has more than 12 years of consulting and management experience in the health care profession and has managed large successful corporate dental practices, stresses that it is important for the dentist to spend time with these patients explaining treatment and for the financial coordinator to be able to speak their language so the patients can really understand the treatment and financial options. 

“This financial coordinator has to be patient, warm and able to communicate in their native language,” Truxal said. “I have seen offices grow their new patient count just by focusing on providing this exceptional experience to multicultural patients.”

A study titled “Multicultural Issues in Oral Health,” which was originally published in Dental Clinics of North America, said that the “social, political and economic pressures on the dental profession to meet the health needs of an increasingly diverse society will only grow over the coming decades.” The study goes on to say, “Inconsistent patient behaviors and attitudes related to compliance with treatment regimens is often a result of cultural conflict between minority patients and their providers.”

Sometimes, a young family member will accompany and attempt to interpret for his or her older family member. Some issues can arise in these situations if a younger family member is hesitant to tell the older one bad news about the status of their oral health. Other complications can occur if the family member doing the interpreting doesn’t understand the technical terms of a diagnosis. These are additional reasons it is better for a staff person to do the interpreting.

Each dental office should have an implementation strategy that has a vision of how they will offer their services to a diverse population. The dentist and staff should ask themselves, “What type of resources do we have available to explain treatment options?” and, “Do we have forms in different languages?”

But while these types of resources are important, the most important thing for a practice to focus on is the connection created with the patient.

“They have perhaps been treated poorly in the past, and/or have taken the step to go to an office but aren’t able to communicate effectively with the dentist and staff members. Then, they finally find the one office that has someone who speaks their language and are able to finally communicate and feel understood,” Truxal said. “That person has to take the time to go over treatment plans more thoroughly and be able to include other family members in the conversation.”

For more information on communicating with patients of different ethnicities, contact CDA Practice Support at 800.232.7645.