Put Down Your Cell Phone!
All of us are reliant on our devices to a certain extent. It is sometimes difficult to remember the time when cell phones were used to make calls and little else. They were once large contraptions that resembled a hand-held vacuum cleaner and weighed about as much. The idea that this phone would evolve to take pictures and videos, keep track of our business and personal calendars and contacts, play music and movies, and link us to the internet was not on our radar; the idea that a person could carry such a phone in a back pocket seemed like a futuristic dream. Star Trek! Now, for people under the age of 30, a cell phone is part of their identity and connection to their friends. It is a reflection of who they are and what they think and do. For little children, their ease with this technology is amazing. Watch a child around age two with his parents’ cell phone and you will see a little person navigating complex games and applications.
Our phones have developed into a communication system that keeps us in touch locally and around the world. We can access streaming videos of situations happening in real time in Europe, while also leaving a text message for our teenagers to do their homework before leaving with their friends. Today the cell phone is a constant companion for many of us. We feel lost without our link to the outside world.
However, there is a serious downside to all of this. We see people sitting next to one another at restaurant tables, walking on the street or even driving in cars, who are not interacting with their surroundings but rather staring down at their screens. Recently a friend told me about a cruise she had taken around the Hawaiian Islands. Beauty surrounded them. There was so much to see and do. But she noticed that most of the time, the people around her (young and old alike) were missing much of it. They were looking at their screens. Texting someone. Updating Facebook. Looking down.
There is even concern now in orthopedic circles that a generation of young people are developing an abnormal spinal curvature due to constantly leaning forward and looking down!
What does this have to do with dentistry? There are two main issues.
1. Our patients are carrying their cell phones with them into the treatment room and are often distracted by notifications of texts, emails, and calls. They may have their devices right on their laps so as not to miss any messages, or they may have them in a coat pocket or purse, causing them alarm when they hear notifications and cannot get to them. They want to look at their screens or get up and get to their devices, disrupting their treatment.
2. Staff people are using their phones during work hours, possibly neglecting the tasks they should be doing.
If cell phones are disrupting your dental practice, it may be time to set up some guidelines to lessen their negative impact.
• At a staff meeting, have team members discuss what is going on with their cell phone usage. Rather than “issuing an edict” about how cell phones can be used at the office, have the staff come up with some suggestions. Before the meeting, prepare some concrete examples of when staff usage of a cell phone interrupted their work and disrupted the office. Examples are more effective than simply saying, “You are using your phones too much.”
A suggestion might be to have all staff use phones only during breaks and lunch hours, unless there is an emergency – and be sure to define “emergency”. In particular, clinical staff could eliminate phone usage while a patient is in the chair, meaning no texting or checking screens. Clerical staff could eliminate the same when patients are at the front desk. The important thing is to set up some rules that everyone understands. Simply telling staff that they cannot use their cell phones during work hours will likely not be very successful. Working moms often want to be sure their children are home from school safely, etc.
• Come up with verbiage to let patients know that cell phone usage must be curtailed during treatment. For example, the hygienist may say, “Mrs. Patient, are you expecting any calls or texts in the next hour? If not, may I ask you to please turn your phone off during our appointment? I don’t want you to be distracted while being treated.”
Typically patients will comply, and the appointment will run more smoothly.
Our phones are a deeply integral part of our lives now; as is dealing with their interruptions. Setting up some guidelines for their use in the dental office is important. After all, we can’t have our patients playing Pokémon Go while we are trying to perform their dental treatment!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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