Caring for Special Needs Patients and their Families: Before the Appointment and Arrival to the Office

In our practices we all encounter special needs patients.  Patients presenting with MS, ALS, CP, Alzheimer, Parkinson’s or other conditions are challenging and many dentists excel in managing them and providing quality care.

But what about the special needs patient’s family?  Do we always remember to care for them also?  We should.  Families of special needs patients are determined to have their family members participate in the world as fully and as long as possible.  The love and endurance of the family is impressive and to be honored.

Here are just a few tips I have learned in more than thirty years of caring for thousands of special needs patient’s and their families. In this post I’ll cover before the appointment and when arriving at the the office; in the next post I’ll address during the examination and after care.

Before the appointment

  • Sometimes there may be reluctance to provide the information required for fear of being denied an appointment.  Try to reduce anxiety by showing patience and understanding.
  • Spend adequate time training staff and modeling proper management of special needs patients and their families.  Expect your staff to be high performing in this area.
  • A phone call the day before the appointment to learn who will be coming gives a good opportunity to welcome the patient and family.
  • Clarify if lifting help or a wheelchair is required for moving from and to the parking lot.

At arrival to the office

  • Recall that families know their special needs member are not easily accommodated at many places and the family may not feel welcome because of issues related to access. Make your office an exception.
  • It is helpful to  have someone step into the reception room to greet the family making them feel welcome.
  • Make sure the reception room accommodates the patient and the family.  Often times the management of the patient requires several caregivers.  Ascertain the relationships to make sure the most salient members are known.
  • Sometimes the appointments are lengthy.  If appropriate offer those who are caregivers the opportunity to leave if they choose and call them on the phone when the patient is ready to leave.


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