​Communication has become something of a challenge during the pandemic, says dental nurse Danielle Schroven.

Although, according to a news story last month, PPE isn’t all bad. The romantic tale of a couple of NHS health care workers who met while working on an intensive care unit hit the headlines last month.

The two frontline workers told a newspaper that it was the eye contact between them that helped along their relationship when they met working on the intensive care unit at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.

They confessed they simply ‘communicated through their eyes’ behind their masks and ‘connected immediately’.

Whilst most dental team’s experience of wearing PPE is not quite so joyful, this uplifting tale does raise an important point – that there is no excuse for poor communication in any healthcare environment. Even more so as we deliver care during global health crisis.

Whatever the current climate expects of us, it is imperative that as a dental team we work together to overcome the barriers in order to communicate effectively.

We must:

  • Deliver full, clear and accurate information that patients can understand, before, during and after treatment, so that they can make informed decisions in partnership with the people providing their care
  • Offer a clear explanation of the treatment, possible outcomes and what they can expect
  • Inform patients how much their treatment will cost before it starts, and to be told about any changes
  • Communicate in a way they can understand
  • Ensure they know the names of those providing their care
  • Obtain valid consent.

COVID-19 has heightened our appreciation of the need for good communication. When the pandemic hit, it slowly dawned on us all that the world was about to be turned upside down. Once we reopened our doors, teams (and their patients) had to adapt to the new levels of PPE, that included mask wear, including FFP2 and FFP3 masks.

We had patients to care for and ourselves and our colleagues to protect and, 12 months on, we continue to overcome the challenges.

When I first returned to AGP appointments with my clinician, I found it hard to communicate with patients due to my mask. My mouth was extremely dry, my chest and back ached from breathing deeply and I found I had no energy to communicate.

As we adapted to the changes, I found these created a barrier between us and the patient and our relationships suffered, with our ability to demonstrate empathy impaired. Even hugging a patient was no longer allowed, and the impact was huge.

After a few sessions, I began to get used to the breathing and would talk a lot more with my patients.

However, face masks inevitably impede our ability to speak and listen. They alter the sounds and quality of our voice and, together with the rules of social distancing, pose communication challenges, particularly with our more vulnerable patients.

We therefore need to be mindful of how effectively we are communicating, especially with patients with impaired hearing, the elderly, those with a learning disability or those who have dementia or cognitive impairment.

Our relationship with these patients is also made more difficult by the fact that they are not able to have the usual support from family or their carer once inside the surgery.

But, if communication is lost, we have a domino effect on our ability to care. Finding new ways to communicate with patients (and colleagues) is therefore critical.

Top tips for communication and mask wear

  1. Wave when you see your patient, or give them a thumbs up. Start with positive signals before walking them through the new-style appointment. Keep an open posture when you welcome them through the door. Look welcoming and be reassuring. This might be a nerve-racking moment for many of them, as they step into the unknown. Remember that you are gowned up and may appear scary to those who are nervous.
  2. Be self-aware. Stress is an everyday factor in dentistry and sometimes it can affect us, too. Focus on your pitch and tone, be mindful of the words you are using as well as your body language – and remember to breathe. If you’re calm, the patient will be too.
  3. Smile and maintain eye contact. Approach patients from the front and try to speak to them while level with their eye line. Patients can see a genuine smile in your eyes behind the PPE.
  4. Try to guide them through the appointment seamlessly. Use signage to make their ‘patient journey’ less of an ordeal. To relay those common and all-important messages, create laminated signs and use pictures and words as a visual aid or prompt.
  5. Keep an eye on your patients. You may now be used to your COVID-19 protocols but your patients will not. Remember to be empathetic to their behaviours. Note their body language and aim to reassure with yours. Actively listen to what they are saying and react positively.

And finally, whilst face coverings are now a key fixture in the delivery of health and social care – at least for the foreseeable future – do remember that it is also important to source the most effective and most comfortable equipment available to us in order to do the job we do.

Dental Sky is a keen supporter of the dental nursing profession and is one of the fastest growing dental supply companies in the UK. Based in Ashford in Kent, the company supplies the dental profession with ‘practically every dental product you need to run a successful practice’, including a range of infection control products.

For more, visit https://www.dentalsky.com