Help, My Patients Want to Talk Politics!
Although the presidential election is a year away, interest in the possible candidates and issues that may dominate the dialogue are front and center right now. Local and state elections will also be occurring with their complement of contentious topics! Whether you are intensely interested in the political process or start “tuning in” a little later in the election season, engaging in political talk with patients is not advisable. We have all heard the axiom, “Never discuss politics or religion with patients, it only leads to problems.” This is as true now as it ever was. However, what can you do when your patients bring up the topic during your hygiene appointment?
Say something non-committal and then change the subject. Mr. Patient comes in for his recall and right away starts talking about the debate he watched on television the night before. He asks if you watched and wants to know your opinion. You suspect that Mr. Patient will not agree with your actual assessment of the debate and you want to avoid talking about it. Even if you suspect Mr. Patient might agree with your opinion, you know this is not a proper discussion for the office. We want all of our patients to feel comfortable and accepted in the practice. Potential political divisions are not helpful in this regard.
A possible conversation might go like this:
Mr. Patient: Did you watch the debate last night? What did you think?
Then you pick up your instruments and get to work. If he brings the topic up again, try again for the soft response.
Patients may also be involved in different types of political fundraising. They might want you or the doctor to contribute to a cause. While it is not the most appropriate thing for a patient to solicit for donations during their appointment, it may happen. This is very tricky! If you disagree with the cause, you won’t want to donate. Even if you agree with the cause, you might not be in a position to donate. If the patient starts in with the dentist it can be even more difficult. Patients may not accept an explanation that the dentist is not able to afford a donation right now, and the dentist may not want to say that in any case. Tell the patient you would like to think about it and then change the subject. If possible, alert the dentist before he/she goes in to greet the patient, giving the doctor time to prepare.
Mr. Patient: I am a supporter of the XYZ political fund. We are looking for more donations to support our work here in town and across the nation. Can you give us a small donation?
You: I have heard of that fund. It would be great if you could give me some information. (Smiling) I would like to think about it. How has that tooth on the lower right side been feeling?
Mr. Patient: Dr. Smith, I am a supporter of the XYZ political fund. Can you give us a small donation? (Dr. Smith knows this may happen because you provided a warning about the situation before he entered the treatment room.)
Dr. Smith: I have heard of that fund. Please give the information to Nancy at the front desk. She handles all of my donations. I typically try to make donation checks once a month and she helps me keep the details straight. (Smiling) Thanks for letting me know about it. Now, how is that tooth on the lower right side feeling?
Some patients might even be highly involved in a political group or activity and ask you or the dentist to get involved as well. If this happens, say you need to get more information and change the subject.
Mr. Patient: I am against XYZ and my group is going to picket at the XYZ site next week. We are looking for more picketers and know that you would probably like to be included. Can you meet us there at around 9am?
You: I will need to get more information before I commit to something like that. I will have to let you know later. Now, it looks like your bleaching at home has been working well. Have your teeth been sensitive?
Dealing with political issues at work can be very problematic, and it looks to be on the rise during election season. Being prepared with some answers can help reduce problems and give staff options as to how to respond in a tactful way.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.
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