A 30-year-old lady had been to see a hygienist for a scale and polish, went home and took a small mirror that she put inside her mouth to have a look behind her front teeth.
She went back to the surgery and complained to the receptionist about inadequate scaling. She was booked in to see another hygienist who confirmed there were some stains left behind (palatally) the upper front teeth. Otherwise the scaling was done well enough.
Patient left the practice seemingly happy but the next day she called the practice that she still wasn’t happy. She also complained about the dentist she had seen.
The hygienists and the dentist discussed about the patient and came into conclusion that this patient could not be pleased and the complaints would be never-ending. They all had had the same feeling about the patient when she was in the chair. It was a feeling of unease and of a need to explain excessively everything they were doing or saying to avoid a complaint. They decided together that the patient would not be welcomed anymore and the practice manager was the one to break the news to the patient.
Thankfully the practice owner was supportive over the decision. He said
“We don’t need that kind of patient in our practice. She will only bring bad blood and it’s just not worth it. We can’t help her.”
The Compensation Culture
The compensation culture in the UK (and perhaps even more so in the US) is making a life of a dental professional very hard. It is ludicrous that the main focus of seeing the patients is in the avoidance of possible complaint.
The rotten apples amongst us dental professionals are perhaps to blame. And the media has done their share as well (has there actually been a program about rogue dentists?). The way the media is sharing news is focused on gruesome headlines and there seem to be less and less investigative journalists in the payroll of the media. Instead there are these copy-paste-wannabe-journalists whose main focus and reason for existence is to get as many clicks as possible on their news. Here’s one example:
“Dental anguish: Indiana man who expected to have four teeth pulled woke up in hospital TOOTHLESS” (Find the news here)
This and similar headlines were quickly released around the world without giving the dentist a chance to respond. He would have wanted to respond, I’m sure but there are laws that prevent us dental professionals responding publicly to the accusations made against us when it is about doctor-patient relationship.
Later on the dentist was allowed to discuss the patient case but far fewer media released his response (you can find the response here). So the dentist suffered financial loss over these headlines only because the media is fishing the clicks. Of course there wouldn’t be these headlines if there weren’t people clicking them…
Learn the Phrases
You know what? It is time to fight back the compensation culture. You can do this by learning to use certain phrases. I will list the phrases I use myself when I see a patient. And without sounding like a super human, I rarely get complaints. It is just the opposite. People are happy after they have seen me.
And before you tell me that there is no time to explain everything to the patient I will say that it takes no extra time. You can use the time when you have your fingers inside the patient’s mouth. Don’t wait until you are finished with the treatment. You chit-chatting might even relax the patient!
Ok here we go and remember these are just examples and you can easily create your own phrases for every situation.
The phrases need to cover:
Post-operative pain/sensitivity/bleeding and instructions
“The gums might feel tender afterwards and it is ok to take a painkiller for them. But do not take aspirin because it might make the gums bleed.”
“Sometimes the teeth get sensitive after scaling which normally will pass very soon. If prolonged it is advised to use a sensitive toothpaste.”
“Some stains cannot be removed by scale and polish. They are in the deep grooves or inside the enamel or between the filling and a tooth and only replacing the filling will help.”
“The teeth will feel very different afterwards as the tongue has got used to the tartar. You will feel the gaps between the teeth.”
Looks and the feel of the new filling
“You might have sensitivity after new white filling and in the worst case the sensitivity can last for months but it should gradually get less and less. If not, you need to come back to have it checked. And if the pain gets worse you need to come back straight away.”
“The filling is never the same as your natural tooth (so you should think twice next time before you snack between the meals and neglect the teeth… )”
The list of these phrases is endless.
And the most important thing is to remember to write down every advice and information you have given so that it can be easily checked what the patient was told if they complain. In this digital age it is a matter of copy-paste if you have created templates on you computer.
Tell What You Do
It takes no extra effort to babble while you are treating the patient. Of course some people won’t like us talking while we treat them but telling the basic stuff is normally ok. This means very simply informing the patient what you are going to do next.
“I’m going to tilt the seat back…”
“I will rinse now..”
“I will use a drill next. There will be water and you will feel vibration…”
I hear it numerous times per week that the patient felt it was good that I told everything I did. I think it is only respectful thing to do. After all patients come to see us, trust their health in our hands and pay our wages.
There. Now go on and try these advises out! I’m sure you won’t regret it.