Not long ago there was an online article where the author was talking about the need for an Internet Bill of Rights: in other words, an updated set of regulations and protocols that would help ensure consumer data security in the internet era. Given the number of high-profile data breaches we read about in the news these days, that actually might not be a bad idea.
It’s also easy to jump from there to start thinking about what sorts of things clients can expect when they come to you for dental work. Perhaps a “bill of rights” isn’t necessary, but there are a few things that anyone—first-timers or long-time patient—should be able to count on when they walk in:
- The right to feel confident
The average person is simply not comfortable in the dentist chair, so it is important to go out of your way to help patients feel safe and confident. Does your staff wear masks, gloves and appropriate eyewear? Are gloves and other such items disposed of between patients? Are all dental instruments sterilized and stored in sealed bags? Following procedures 99 percent of the time may feel like you’re doing a good job, but the one person who notices you skipping a step can do a lot of damage.
- The right to have questions answered
Both causing and exacerbating the discomfort mentioned above, patients may have a lot of questions going into a procedure. Your job: answer them. All of them, to the patient’s satisfaction. And do it politely, no matter how much of a hurry you’re in. Better yet, try to anticipate questions, explaining things clearly before you’re even asked. Do your best to put them at ease; it will make everything run smoother.
- The right to professional, courteous service
Sometimes, there is a fine line between creating an amicable atmosphere so that your patients can relax…and crossing that line into “too close for comfort” territory. Your patients expect you to be polite—even friendly—but they also want professionalism. They may talk to you, joke with you, even give you a friendly hug; but make no mistake, they still have the right to hold you to professional business standards. That means keeping on appointment schedules, being prepared, and being upfront about what they can expect.
- They have a right to a long-term plan
After every exam, you should be able to present a plan for ongoing treatment – whether it’s a schedule of regular checkups or timeline for more extensive dental work when necessary. This plan should include both the suggested steps as well as treatment alternatives, benefits, risks, and costs. All financial arrangements should be outlined prior to treatment, including how your office will handle insurance and billing.
- They have a right to say “No”
A lot goes in to a decision as significant as extensive dental work. Things that may seem obvious and important to you can seem foreign and overwhelming to the patient. You can tell them that work needs to be done, but they are wondering if it’s really necessary, or an upsell, or whether they should get a second opinion.
As dentists, we are supposed to make patients feel informed and acknowledged on the road to dental health—not threatened or intimidated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, but patients have every right in the world to ask about less expensive or less invasive options, seek a second opinion, or just plain say “No” to a procedure.
On top of all this, your patients have a right to have their personal information kept private and secure. This is getting to be a greater and greater challenge as our dependence of technology increases. Still it is your job to do everything in your power to protect personal info.
While it’s true that the dentist does the diagnosing and develops the treatment plan, the contemporary patient expects to know what the options are and to have a say in the decision-making process. You need to be guiding the patient every step, helping them find a solution that meets their unique criteria.
Much of it gets down to your own personal/professional credo. Dentists need to be committed to delivering both the best product and the best experience. That is seldom the easiest tack to take, but it will make a difference. Like they say: be the change you want to see in the world.
Or in the dental practice, as the case may be.