The cell phone dilemma

Sept. 1, 2001
It is so frustrating to be in the middle of an appointment and have to stop to let the patient answer a call!

It is so frustrating to be in the middle of an appointment and have to stop to let the patient answer a call!

Dear Dianne,
Cellular telephones are becoming a major annoyance in our office. On a recent day, three different patients received calls during their appointments. One of these patients took nearly eight minutes talking about some business-related item. I had to stop working; I also had to set the chair upright and hand the patient her purse so she could dig out someone's telephone number for the caller. It is so frustrating to be in the middle of an appointment and have to stop to let the patient answer a call!

I also believe cell phones can be dangerous. When a pager or cell phone beeps or rings, it startles the patient. Any sudden movement can startle me and could actually cause me to inadvertently injure the patient.

I work on a tight schedule; I don't have time for patients to receive telephone calls while they are in my chair. Do you have any advice on how to tactfully handle this dilemma?

Challenged in Charlotte

Dear Challenged,
Technological advances bring mixed blessings! Since I travel quite a bit, my cell phone has become a necessity. It is my connection with home and the world. Before cellular telephones existed, I used pay telephones in airports. However, for obvious reasons, I never felt comfortable using telephones that hundreds of other people had used. I simply feel safer and more comfortable with my personal cellular telephone.

Certainly, no one will argue about the ease this technology has brought to our society. However, wireless technology has a few drawbacks. Never has there been a time when so many ordinary people are on 24-hour call. Everywhere you look, people are using cell phones — shopping in the mall, walking down the street, driving a car, in the library, in hospitals, walking on the beach, and yes, even in the dental chair! It seems we have become obsessed with those little wallet-sized wonders!

I question whether this has been entirely beneficial. I recently went on a weekend shopping trip and retreat with three of my girlfriends. This is our annual "getaway." However, one of my friends insisted on keeping her cell phone turned on. Her 14 year-old daughter called her numerous times to "check in." My friend was at her daughter's beck and call all weekend. Every few hours, her telephone rang. And she invariably answered it — whether we were riding in the car, trying on clothes, or enjoying a seminar. Had there been an emergency, no one would have minded. But these continual calls were annoying. My own cell phone was turned off; I gave my family the hotel number instead. This was sufficient information in case of an emergency.

What can we do about the problem of patients receiving pages or cellular calls during dental treatment? Prevention is the key. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Post a sign in your reception room that says: "As a service to you and to ensure that your dental care is uninterrupted, please leave your cellular telephone with our receptionist. She will be happy to take any messages for you. Otherwise, please turn all cellular telephones off." This shows that you are willing to assist busy patients worried about missing an important call. The message also says that you consider your patients important enough to have someone act as their interim secretary. However, the most important message is that cell phones should be turned off if the patient is not willing to leave it at the front desk.
  • Install a cellular telephone blocking device. Here's the website of a company that manufactures them: www.cguard .com/English/latest/index.html

This issue is also one of respect. Many of our patients are busy professionals who must field important calls every day. Typically, these patients don't cause problems. The real frustration comes from those people who think they are busy or important, and fail to respect your time by taking inconsequential calls that could wait until after the appoinment.

Respect your patient's time by being prompt. Making people wait longer than necessary sends the message that you do not consider their time important.

Cellular telephones are here to stay. The problem will only escalate as more people buy into the technology. Exercise an ounce of prevention and save yourself future aggravation! Further, if your patients waste precious time and "talk" their appointments away on a cell phone, do not hesitate to reappoint them and charge for an extra visit.


Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is an adjunct instructor in clinical hygiene at Guilford Technical Community College. She holds a bachelor's degree in human resource management and is a practice-management consultant, writer, and speaker. She may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], phone (336) 472-3515, or fax (336) 472-5567. Visit her Web site at http://www.professionalden