How to handle patients who think COVID-19 doesn't exist

There are plenty of people that refuse to acknowledge COVID-19 and that is their right. As a dental practice, what can you do when that situation arises?
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There’s a big split in the country over COVID-19. Some people believe it’s a deadly virus and take all the precautions possible to keep themselves and those around them safe. At the same time, others believe there’s something more sinister going on and that the coronavirus is a hoax

Everyone has the right to their own opinion and beliefs. But when someone is potentially putting others’ lives at risk, you have to draw the line somewhere.

As a dental professional, it’s likely you’ve already come across some patients who would rather not follow the health guidelines you’ve got in place to keep your staff and patients safe. This article will help you better understand where these patients are coming from and how you can persuade them to consider the affects their behaviour has on others.

Why do some people think COVID-19 doesn’t exist?

With over 260,000 American deaths, thousands of citizens falling sick every day and overwhelmed hospitals with insufficient resources to cope, it might be difficult to understand how someone wouldn’t believe the coronavirus is real. To help you handle “COVID deniers” professionally, you first need to understand why they don’t believe the virus exists.

Joanne Miller, an associate professor at the University of Delaware who studied conspiracy theories explains that during uncertain times when people have very little control (i.e wars, famines and pandemics) many people turn to conspiracy theories to help explain what’s going on and regain a sense of control. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many people facing uncertainties about their jobs, children, friends, home, school...almost every aspect of their everyday lives. To feel like they have some control over the outcome of the pandemic, it’s only natural for people to try to explain the event. Conspiracy theories provide people with reassurance that what’s going on can be controlled.  

"Believing that the coronavirus is being spread by 5G towers actually gives us a little bit of control because there's something to fight against," Miller said. "Having a villain is more comforting than saying this is a naturally occurring virus that is spreading, and we don't know how to stop it."

But backing conspiracy theories and encouraging others to do the same comes at a great cost that will be paid by yourself, your staff and your other patients if you don’t keep it outside your practice. If a patient doesn’t believe that COVID-19 is real and refuses to follow the health and safety protocols within your practice, they’re putting the lives of many people at risk.

As a healthcare worker, it’s your duty to prevent that.

How to convince non-believing patients

There are stories all over the media about the unimaginable struggles doctors and nurses are going through, trying to save their patients’ lives while battling people who deny that the virus exists. But they’re not the only healthcare workers who have to handle patients who don’t believe the virus is real.

Dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants all witness coronavirus deniers at work, too.

Don’t engage in arguments

The first step to convincing non-believing patients of the dangers of COVID-19 is to not engage in any argument over the virus. While some patients might truly be doubtful over the risk of the virus and be focusing on protecting their freedom, others will simply be looking for a fight. 

Either way, a pandemic argument is beyond the scope of a dental appointment and it should be left out.

Determine the root issue

The second step is to determine the exact problem the patient has with your protocols. Do they resent being asked to wear a face covering? Wait outside until it’s their appointment time? Have their temperature checked before entering? Remember to be patient and respectful when discussing this issue, even if the patient isn’t showing you the same grace.

When you know what the patient’s problem is, you can address it.

One of the most common issues people have about the pandemic restrictions is the wearing of masks or face coverings. If this is the case, explain that the patient will literally only have to wear the mask as they walk through the reception and into the treatment room. In a standard dental practice, it will only be a matter of seconds before they can remove it for treatment to begin.

If the patient has a problem with staff wearing additional PPE, the use of plastic screening, practicing social distancing, etc, the best thing you can do is to indicate that these measures in no way affect the patient.

Just as the patient has the right to believe in anything they choose, so you do and your members of staff. Their safety precautions are just as valid as the patient’s refusal to take safety precautions.

Try to reason with them

In a final attempt, try to reason with the patient and persuade them to acknowledge that the inconveniences they face for their dental appointment are minor.

Explain that if the non-believer is right and the virus isn’t as bad as we’re being led to believe, there’s no harm done in them following the recommended guidelines for the length of their appointment. If the information we’re receiving is true and the virus is dangerous, being slightly inconvenienced by wearing a mask for a matter of seconds and having their temperature taken digitally is a small sacrifice to make to save lives. 

When you should refuse treatment

No dental professional ever wants to refuse treatment to a patient in need, but sometimes it’s got to be done. If a patient was being verbally or physically abusive to staff members, you’d refuse them treatment without a second thought. Patients who refuse to follow the safety protocols are still putting people at risk and you need to think about the safety of yourself and others.

It’s not just your staff who are put in danger by COVID deniers. They could be putting other patients at risk, too. Despite all the cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing you do, you can never be 100% certain that your dental practice is clean from viruses. By allowing someone who could have the virus into your practice and allowing them to forego recommended protocols, a following patient who did follow the guidelines could contract the virus.

While the final decision is up to you, it’s wise to refuse treatment to anyone who won’t follow your dental practice’s safety protocols. If a patient is refusing to think about others, you’ve got to pick up the slack and look out for others on their behalf. 

Everyone is entitled to their opinion

The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to free speech and the freedom to believe what they choose to believe. If someone believes that the virus isn’t as dangerous as it’s being made out to be or that it doesn’t exist at all, that’s their right. But when these beliefs threaten other people’s lives, it’s vital you take a step back and reassess the situation.

As a dental professional, you don’t want to turn away any patient who needs treatment. But if they refuse to take the necessary precautions inside your dental practice, they're putting your life at risk, as well as the lives of your staff and patients. While it’s certainly not your first choice, if a patient can’t be persuaded to follow the recommended guidelines inside your office, it’s in the interest of everyone’s safety that you refuse them treatment.


Written By Nicola Quinn