Trending Topics: Intuitive patient care—a new approach to oral health care

May 9, 2023
Does "gut feeling" have a place in the operatory? Bethany Montoya, RDH, suggests that applying human intuition to patient care can bring about more successful treatment outcomes.

Dentistry, like all other facets of the health-care industry, is evidence-based. We establish and improve our patient care standards based on findings in clinical studies and proven scientific research. Evidence allows us to achieve the best possible treatment outcomes in a consistent, reliable way that ensures patient safety and satisfaction.

But any clinician can tell you that not everything regarding patient care is cut-and-dried. There are endless factors and considerations that play into what may seem like the simplest treatment scenario. Unique factors such as the patient’s medical conditions, attitude and behavior, socioeconomic status, age, presence and severity of pain, and language can complicate treatment options and overall case prognosis. The knowledge, skills, and resources of the clinician have an impact as well. These variations explain why a patient can visit three dental offices in their local area with the same chief complaint and receive completely different forms of care at each practice.

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Where intuition comes in

When encountering a patient care scenario where the answer is not so straightforward and evidence leaves us wanting more, clinicians have a secret weapon: intuition. Intuition is a unique human trait that separates us from machines and the widely popular artificial intelligence technology that is transforming many industries, including dentistry. Intuition is the instinctual awareness we have of people, situations, and surroundings that develops without our conscious mind’s ability to explain it. Some may call it a “gut feeling.” Intuition has been studied by scientists, psychologists, and philosophers since the beginning of time, but it remains shrouded in mystery.

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Intuitive patient care

Does “following your gut” have a place in clinical dental practice? While most of our procedures, protocols, and treatment methods should be founded on evidence-based principles, there are times when we may need to rely on instinctual cues to navigate the gray areas of patient care. This may be where logic and emotion collide, as we can use our knowledge and skills as clinicians in conjunction with our emotional discernment as humans to provide intuitive patient care. Here are some skills to consider when implementing intuitive patient care in your operatory:

  • Active listening: Listening to understand, not to respond; observing verbal and nonverbal communication and offering a response that shows attentiveness
  • Empathy: The ability to feel and share what another person is experiencing from their perspective
  • Social awareness: Recognizing and appreciating the world around us
  • Open-mindedness: Being receptive to new ideas; a willingness to try new things
  • Self-regulation: Understanding and managing our response to our surroundings
  • Curiosity: Being eager to learn about others
  • Ability to meet the patient where they are: Considering dental IQ, financial abilities, all possible treatment options, fears, perceptions, and pain

Intuitive patient care is care provided for humans, by humans. It allows patients to feel validated, respected, and heard—all while receiving research-based oral health care from competent, practical providers. This advanced level of practice requires the clinician to tap into their empathetic side, yielding more successful treatment outcomes and higher patient satisfaction. Just as we need to use our clinical knowledge to assess differential diagnoses, we need to use our intuition to assess differential emotions that can affect overall patient response to treatment in our exam chair.

For further study

If you’re interested in learning how to strengthen your intuition, here are some helpful resources:

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Through the Loupes newsletter, a publication of the Endeavor Business Media Dental Group. Read more articles and subscribe to Through the Loupes.