Post op Communication Tips

Dental patient watching LoopScreen

by Stephanie Baker, RDH BS

Communication is the ultimate human connection, and the roadmap to navigating relationships successfully. Effective communication of post-operative information can be the single disparity between prolonged discomfort, and healing. In many cases, it can be the determinate between treatment success and failure. As a healthcare provider, embracing better communication skills will not only make you a better clinician, it will strengthen the patient-caregiver bond. In addition, it will make your work flow easier by inhibiting barriers in patient compliance. Ultimately, the objective is to create a positive and compassionate patient experience, engaging the patient as a valued partner in their care. Here are a few simple, and easily implemented strategies to help you achieve these goals.

Patient perspective

For some, medical and dental offices can be an intimidating and scary place. Whenever possible, get on the same level as the patient, sitting in a chair when possible, to not intimidate or convey dominance. Practice empathy, and be sensitive to discomfort the patient may be experiencing, observing body language, and non-verbal cues. Look the patient in the eyes, as this will convey warmth as well as enhance listening.

Show Respect

While it is important to never talk down to patients, it is equally important to not speak over their heads. Using laymen’s terms to relay post-op instructions will improve comprehension and, ultimately, compliance. While speaking, acknowledge patient awareness by monitoring facial expressions. For example, if a patient scowls or raises their eyebrows, pause and ask if they need more clarification. If so, ask them which part confused them, so you can further explain. In addition, assure them it is not uncommon for patients to feel overwhelmed by this information. Share that you are happy to explain things in a different way. There is no shaming in good two-way communication.

Have patience

Due to age, cognitive issues, or anesthesia, patients may not quickly digest information. Use short sentences, speak slowly, pausing periodically to allow for comprehension. This will allow the patient to digest information as its received. Good communication need not be rushed.


When applicable, use visual aids to reinforce your message. For example, show them where they should apply gauze or medicaments. Follow up by asking if they’d like you to show them again.

Written reinforcement

Provide written instructions. This will give additional assurance if questions arise at home, and equip the patient for post-op success. Include contact information and dispense basic treatment items, such as gauze, to sustain them until they are settled at home.

Q & A

Ask open ended questions such as, “I went over a lot of information with you today. Which part would you like me to go back over with you?” This will engage the patients critical thinking, and provide another opportunity to reinforce vital steps. This will remove the potential fear of judgment, if they missed a few steps.

Tell, Show, Do

The old tell-show-do concept applies when it comes to post-op instructions and education. In short, it involves, telling the patient what is necessary to properly care for themselves while at home. The next step is to show them how to care for themselves, including all the steps involved. And finally, demonstrating it for them so they can easily comprehend what is expected. With the growing list of dental treatments available, post-op instructions may vary. Regardless the procedure, the effective application of post-op care is contingent upon how effectively the post-op care is communicated. It is critical for adequate healing. After all, how successful is treatment, if the patient is unsuccessful in their home care and maintenance? Effectively navigate the roadmap to communication & understanding, and your patient will travel alongside you on the road that leads to a strong patient-clinician bond.

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