United we stand

By Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

Recently a close friend who is a chiropractor was faced with a dilemma in his practice. One of his front-desk employees was having issues with her back. An orthopedic surgeon had examined her, and after several rounds of testing she was undergoing epidural injections and physical therapy. But the treatment was not proving effective and surgery was looming large.

My chiropractic friend was astounded! This woman represents his practice on the front line, so to speak. She spends hours talking to patients, both on a personal and professional level. What was disconcerting was that he had asked her to show him her test results and let him provide her with a complimentary exam, at the very least. She declined. He was flabbergasted that she had not given any consideration to at least trying a more conservative approach (via chiropractic) to address her physical condition, as he felt certain he would have been able to help her. After all, this is his philosophy of care.

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My friend contemplated the ramifications of this employee's continued presence in his practice. He could not help but consider the underlying message that would be given to people. He had frequently heard her engage in small talk with patients who were waiting to be seen. She thought nothing of mentioning her back issues to people, and how she had chosen to address those issues. Can this woman possibly continue to be regarded as a diplomat for the practice?

Surely as employees we have the right to make our own decisions regarding how we wish to treat our illnesses. That's fair. I asked my friend that if the woman agreed not to talk about her decision to others, would that be good enough to allow her to remain with his practice? He looked at me and said, "What do you think?" And I realized that if it were my practice I would have to let her go. Questions would inevitably come from patients who were aware or had observed her treatment. What about her family and friends, who would all question her about why she did not choose chiropractic over traditional approaches. It sends a message, doesn't it? And word travels!

I likened this incident to dentistry, and thought about some of the scenarios I have seen along my journey. I remember temping in a practice and being in a treatment room adjacent to the RDH who disagreed with her doctor's frequency of prescribing routine radiographs for patients. I overheard her telling a patient that the doctor had asked that films be taken, and while she did not agree with him because it was sooner than what she was comfortable with, she was obligated to follow through with the request. WHAT? I was aghast!

It would seem to me that as employees, we have a moral obligation to present a united front with the practitioners who employ us. Reality is that patients trust us, and often we have our own profound relationships with them. I cannot tell you how many times a client has turned to me after a doctor has recommended an esthetic procedure and asked me what I thought. That's a moment of truth. Do I validate the dentist's findings, or subtly find a way to convey the message that I disagree with his approach to care? If I do not validate, this sends a mixed message to patients. Do you recognize the power that we have? My perspective is, if I do not buy into this doctor's philosophy of care, how can I justify being here? We of the dental team are ambassadors for our practices in so many ways.

I understand this is difficult for some. These are tough economic times where dental hygiene positions are not readily available. No matter where we are, however, we need to find the good. We need to champion our doctors' causes and ask for that two-way street of respect. I am proud to showcase the dentistry in my mouth that my doctor has provided for me. It is an honor to "toot the practice horn."

By the same token, I appreciate the validation when my doctor listens to my periodontal assessment and recommendations, agrees with me, and asks a patient to follow through with what I suggested.

Our patients are truly captive audiences, who listen carefully to us whether we are talking with them alone or are involved in a conversational interaction with them and the doctor (i.e., during an exam). Happy is the dynamic duo team of a doctor and RDH who are in sync with their philosophy of care. It's such a win/win for the practice.

Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core!

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at eemorrisseyrdh@aol.com or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.

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