Does your doctor engage in over-schmoozing?

May 1, 1998
In this technologically-dependent world in which we live, it`s a rare household that doesn`t own at least three remotes for various electronic "must-haves." The stereo, CD player and garage doors simply could not be managed without one! And the life support system in every family room (I speak of the television) is operated by the strongest or most authoritative individual in the room at the time. Heaven help the unfortunate souls who misplace the TV remote! In my house, they might as well pack

Just use the speed control on your DDS remote!

Joanne Iannone Sheehan, RDH

In this technologically-dependent world in which we live, it`s a rare household that doesn`t own at least three remotes for various electronic "must-haves." The stereo, CD player and garage doors simply could not be managed without one! And the life support system in every family room (I speak of the television) is operated by the strongest or most authoritative individual in the room at the time. Heaven help the unfortunate souls who misplace the TV remote! In my house, they might as well pack their bags and await exile.

Contemplating the power these little gadgets have over our lives, I`ve been toying with the idea of a remote that would work on people of the DDS persuasion. A question I like to ask at interviews with a new dentist is, "Do you throw things, raise your voice at your staff, mumble or engage in excessive schmoozing?" I always am assured that the first two are professionally inconceivable, but the answer to the last part of that question usually is evaded.

My invention, a DDS remote, would end the problem of the mumbling and over-schmoozing dentist forever ... or until the batteries wore out! Consider the poor hygienist who has unwittingly come into the employ of a chronic mumbler.

The doctor comes in to check her patient. He greets the patient with a hearty handshake and a "How the heck are ya?" while she grabs the pencil to record his findings on examination. The doctor repositions his mask and becomes ... Mighty Mumbler, able to dumbfound a hygienist with superhuman hearing! The blue thing that serves as a barrier to all things undesirable also is blocking her view of his mouth and muffling his already subdued tone. She can`t even read his lips!

Why are hygienists all over the country so miffed with Mighty Mumblers in their offices? Here`s one example of the problem:

Pam was poised and ready to record any decay found as the doctor checked her patient. This is what she heard him say; "Mashawe ba naraspon elifis ena ation on number 6D." The setup of the operatory and the doctor`s positioning blocked her vision of what part of the mouth he was examining at the time. She was totally clueless about the first part of the sentence, but was reasonably sure the second part reported a restoration needed on the #6 distal.

She marked the area to be treated on the chart and, just before the doctor left (he had been carrying on a running conversation with his buddy the whole time), she caught him to confirm what she had written. To her embarrassment - and the doctor`s displeasure - she found that he had said, "Inflammation on number 16."

The patient`s wisdom tooth was partially erupted, catching food beneath a flap of gingiva. Pam felt like an idiot, the patient had reservations about her competency, and the doctor was glad he caught it before it hit the front desk and an appointment was made. (All this confusion would be a thing of the past with my DDS Remote. (Turn up the volume!)

The only other alternative to the remote would be transparent masks. This way, you could at least read the doctor`s lips when he or she refused to speak audibly. But, I can see three draw-backs to the transparent mask if the hygienists, too, must wear them:

(1) The patient would be able to see the grimaces, tongue-chewing and lip-biting that sometimes occurs when treating our more difficult patients.

(2) No longer would the mask mercifully hide those unsightly blemishes or cold sores from holiday goodies or your vacation in the Bermuda sun.

(3) Those of us with killer colds or allergies will no longer be able to stuff our masks full of tissues. This packing technique has worked in a pinch for hygienists just trying to make it to the next appointment.

You cannot keep on schedule when constantly leaving the room to blow your nose, wash your hands and/or change gloves. I, therefore, submit that if transparent masks are to be used, only the dentist should be wearing them.

My DDS remote has a dual function in the dental office. How many times has this ever happened to you:

The doctor sees you seat one of his best buddies in your chair as he passes your doorway. You take the medical history and start the cleaning. The patient has an aversion to floss and you`re wondering which end of the toothbrush he`s been using. It`s slow going, but you`re managing to keep on schedule, spouting oral hygiene instructions as you work. It`s quarter of the hour, you still have eight teeth (lingual version) left to scale, then the polishing and flossing, plus the exam.

Hit the freeze button

The doctor, having finished his patient early, can`t wait anymore and saunters into the room. (The DDS remote would have a freeze button for times like this, allowing you to freeze him in the doorway and finish before he comes in to check. The hygienist without one is doomed to live out the following scenario:

The doctor and your patient exchange boisterous greetings and make predictions on the Superbowl winner, relate exaggerated hunting stories and trade invitations for future golf games and get-togethers. (The DDS remote also has a button to get him back on the Dental Channel.)

You glance at the schedule. Perfect! Your next patient is a two pack-a-day, non-flosser who reamed out the front desk and you last time for making him wait eight minutes in the reception room. He`s a busy man. He refuses to come in more than once a year, but should be on a three-month recall. You haven`t finished scaling, so you don`t have the luxury of asking an assistant to polish and floss for you while you start the Marlboro Man in Room B. Then you overhear an assistant say that Room B is set up for an emergency patient who called and is on her way. Now you have to add break-down and set-up time to the time needed before your next patient can be seen ... and you`re trapped in a room with a boss engaged in excessive schmoozing!

In all fairness, schmoozing is an important part of the dentist-patient relationship. It helps the doctor establish a rapport with new patients, making them feel more comfortable. With established patients, it`s useful for catching up and keeping in touch with what`s going on in their lives. The more personality a doctor has, the more schmoozing he seems to do. If your doctor is the Carson/Leno/Letterman type, you probably already have given up trying to stay on schedule.

If you`re not quite sure if your doctor is a schmoozer, the average schmooze questions will go something like this, inserting the appropriate noun where applicable:

"Hey, Rob, how did your: vacation/honeymoon/bar-mitzvah/court appearance go?"

Or, "Hi, Bill, how is: civilian life/college life/your new wife treating you?"

Or, "Good morning, Rose, and how old is that: baby now/ bomb you drive/man you married anyway?"

Then there`s, "So Doris, how do you like your new: job/apartment/ boss/nose job?"

If any of these sound familiar to you, your doctor is versed in the art of schmoozing. The trick is knowing how much is too much schmoozing! A sensitive doctor will read his hygienist`s body language/glaring looks/red face/ frantically-scribbled notes begging "Could we?" and know when he needs to cut it short and get on with the exam.

Unfortunately, some schmoozers either miss or ignore the signs the hygienist is sending. She could tap her pen on the counter, adjust the light, arrange the instruments on the tray, pick up the explorer/probe at the ready and hold her breath. He simply is not done schmoozing and no one is going to hurry him. I, for one, have joined the war on Schmooze abuse. It must be stopped.

Three-minute warning

There needs be a three-minute limit on schmoozing. All the important things can be covered in that three-minute time frame. Just as the probing takes a certain amount of time, and the polishing, likewise, the schmoozing should not go over the set limit. If the patient is an old friend and there is an inordinate amount of material that must be caught up on, the fast-forward button on my DDS remote comes in real handy. Otherwise, the doctor, when at all possible, should wait until the hygienist is done, do his three-minute limit, then the exam and dismiss the patient to the hall or a conference room where they can schmooze to their hearts`content.

This leaves the hygienist free to prepare for and receive her next patient. And, if scheduled right, the doctor and patient could even schmooze over lunch. If the doctor seems unwilling to work out a reasonable solution to his "over-schmoozing," thus creating harried hygienists and less than happy patients in the reception room, my DDS remote comes with a pause button, too. This button allows the doctor to reflect on the problem and reconsider.

For those hygienists who are thinking of ordering my DDS remote, be advised of the dangers of this gadget when it falls into the wrong hands. Should your boss discover your Olittle secret to a good day at the office,O he may confiscate it and try it out on you. Hygienists who are very meticulous and careful about their work, taking those few extra minutes where needed, may have the speed button used on them. Those of us coming back from vacation and seeming a little out-of-it may find the Oget-with-the-programO button trained on them. Hygien-ists who are found visiting too much, laughing too loudly or taking too many breaks will have the stop button aimed at them.

If a hygienist wishes to purchase this remote control, discretion is a must. Otherwise, every dentist in America will own one and the results would be disastrous for us, yet very profitable for them. Think of it! With the speed button, we could polish off 20 patients a day ? 10 before lunch and 10 after lunch. An hour lunch would become a half hour and a half hour would become 15 minutes! So, you see, great care should be taken by all remote owners of the RDH kind.

Before I hit the off button, I just want to state that any similarity between my boss and the mumbling or over-schmoozing doctor described here is purely coincidental. I have worked in many offices ? part time, full time and temping. I?m sure that all of my doctors, past and present, who read this article could come up with a few buttons for this author in their own article. But, hey, they?ll have to get it past the editor first!

Joanne I. Sheehan, RDH, graduated from the State University of New York at Farmingdale in 1974, and has practiced in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Alabama. She has taught in North Carolina and worked for the Army as a dental hygienist in Germany for three years.