In the Foxhole Together: the Dentist-Patient Collaboration
My first two columns for the McKenzie Newsletter spoke from a patient’s perspective about what we ought to expect from each other as we develop our collaboration. It’s remarkable that we need to articulate all this as though we’re negotiating a peace treaty; after all, we really do need one another, even if we don’t necessarily want each other. Let’s face it, some days all you get are the patients who’d rather be somewhere else, and I’d venture to guess that if you line up a few of those days back to back, you’d rather be somewhere else too – but that shouldn’t happen! Ultimately, we’re on the same side and we need and want the same things. We have common purposes and common enemies. To fight together, we need to understand each other. But as I asked last time, how do we communicate all this with each other?
Fighting Our Mutual Enemies
How many of your patients understand this? How many of them don’t exercise reasonable care? Have you ever taken a moment during a regular appointment to help a patient get the big picture that you can see when you look to their mouth? A compliment to me about good work or a suggestion about improvement might make a big difference. Yes, I know, sometimes the advice is unwelcome. But you don’t need to proselytize. Just a few words, a little encouragement and a reassurance that you’re there for me, will go a very long way. My enemy has a few allies helping in its cause. If systemic illness is out to get me, its friends are helping: Fear and Denial. I can’t fight them by myself, and neither can you. We can beat them if we work together.
Fighting Fear and Denial
Fear’s cousin is Denial. Denial will tell me that Fear isn’t there at all, and that those fearful undertones are just my own healthy self-preservation and skepticism. It will tell me that I’m invulnerable. My bad habits won’t catch up with me. My neglect won’t matter. I won’t get sick, it’ll say, just because I don’t take care of my mouth.
Winning over Fear and DenialOf course, Fear and Denial are really worried about the short term pain and suffering that happens in a dental chair. They have no view at all of the long term; they don’t want to look there. You can help me here, and help yourself too, by guiding me to look ahead, beyond this hour, beyond the fear and denial I brought in to this appointment. What happens in your chair in this appointment has consequences I want. It’s more than a repair or a cleaning. It’s an investment in my overall health. I might not understand that, but you do.
I may have spent a lifetime in the company of Fear and Denial by the time I see you. They might be sitting in the chair with me. But as influential as they’ve been, you have advantages over them. You have experience, training, reason, and caring. They aren’t as strong as you are, and certainly not as strong as we can be together. If you talk with me, that is when we fight as one.
Next column, I’m going to talk about where that happens and about what can be, for us both, the best part of the appointment: the Golden Five Minutes.
On behalf of McKenzie Management, David Clow consults with dental professionals on practice culture, case acceptance, and patient expectations. He can be reached at email@example.com
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