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09.09.05 Issue #183
Time Out For The Patient’s Chief Complaint

Jean Gallienne RDH BS
Hygiene Consultant McKenzie Management

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What exactly does your patient perceive? Of course I cannot tell you the answer, but I can tell you ways to have them perceive you as the caring professional that they are seeking.

So, you are running late. You seat your next root planing patient and they have an area that is sore in the lower left quadrant. You have to get them numb and get back on schedule. In the mean time, they tell you about how it was bothering them the last time they were in for root planing and the other hygienist told him we would watch it for now and that he should continue rinsing with chlorehexidine.

The thing I am not telling you is the tone in his voice while he is talking. He is not angry, but he has a tone like the other hygienist was put off by his discomfort and just brushed him off.

What would you do next? Get the patient numb, and then address their problem. Get the patient numb, do the root planing, and move the patient out of your chair so you can get back on schedule. Then the doctor can do the exam in one of his rooms. You think to yourself, “I need to be on schedule.” Tell the patient you will have the doctor look at it after you are done.

The next thing you do is going to make or break the perception that patient has about your office. He all ready has an attitude about the other hygienist. So, I hope you make the right decision.

Staying on schedule is very important. You need to respect your patients’ time so they will respect your time. However, as a professional, you must put yourself and your needs in neutral long enough to gain understanding and build trust. In this case, the best thing to do is to continue actively empathetically listening to your patient. Empathic listening is transactional, the listener’s first priority is to understand the communicator. Empathic listening means listening to the whole person. You want to listen to what is being said by observing your patient’s facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, posture, as well as body motion. Limiting your concentration and focus to words alone is restrictive and inhibitive. You should also have the patient sitting up in the chair, and you should be sitting at their eye level.

Once the patient is done communicating, and you are done listening for the time being, you should immediately take a look at the area that is bothering the patient. Inform the patient of what you see, what you think may need to be done, and make notations on the hard copy of what you see, and what the patient said. I suggest reading this out loud as you write it. This is a form of paraphrasing that your patient will appreciate. You will find that they will even correct and add to what you are writing verbally as you are writing. Part of being an empathic listener is taking the time to understand what your patient is saying.

Now, let the doctor know what you see, and what you have told the patient. This is not the time to worry about the schedule. You will catch up somewhere else, not here. This is the time to take care of the patient’s concerns FIRST! By doing this you have just let him know that he matters and you want him to be comfortable during his everyday life. You may have just saved the office the loss of a patient out the back door.

This patient happens to have 6-8 mm pockets around this tooth. The root planing was started in this area because of the discomfort. However, the root planing did not decrease the discomfort and now there is a fistula. You have informed the patient that you think the doctor will want to extract the tooth. However, you are not sure and he will have to look at it. You have also let the patient know that the doctor will also want to evaluate what to do as far as replacing the tooth. You tell him he may need an implant, bridge, or partial but you are not sure.

By doing this you have all ready prepared the patient for the future treatment plan, and have prepared him with the thought that it will need to be replaced, not just removed and a big hole left there.

verybody needs to take the time to listen to his or her patients and put to action whatever needs to be done. This will help leave the patient with the perception that you really do care. Which is exactly what you want since you do care.

Jean conducts 2 day Hygiene Performance Enrichment Programs for The Center for Dental Career Development and McKenzie Management in La Jolla/San Diego, CA. Contact her at or call 1-877-777-6151 for more information on her Advanced Hygiene Training Programs.

Interested in having Jean speak to your dental group? Email us at or call 1-877-777-6151

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McKenzie Management's Seminar Schedule
2005 Location Sponsor Information Topic Speaker
Sept. 9-11 San Francisco, CA California Dental Association 916-443-0505 Successes Sally McKenzie
Sept. 22 El Paso, TX El Paso Dental Society 877-777-6151 Breakdown Sally McKenzie
Oct. 14 Riverside, CA Riverside Implant Study Group 951-279-7847 Top Issues Sally McKenzie
Oct. 20-21 Santa Barbara, CA Dental Education Lab 877-777-6151 Max. Prod. Sally McKenzie
Nov. 10-11 Santa Barbara, CA Dental Education Lab 877-777-6151 Max. Prod. Sally McKenzie
Nov. 18-19 Griffin, GA Endo Magic Root Camp 877-478-9748 Top Issues Sally McKenzie
Dec. 1 Cincinnati, OH Cincinnati Dental Society 513-984-3443 Breakdown Sally McKenzie

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