Those pesky details

March 1, 2006
Frequent travelers come to depend on noise-attenuating headphones, because the sheer volume and constant noise on an airplane is very fatiguing.

Frequent travelers come to depend on noise-attenuating headphones, because the sheer volume and constant noise on an airplane is very fatiguing. These headsets create a level of relaxation where one feels like he/she is floating on a cloud, or when plugged into a CD player one has the best seat in Carnegie Hall. Imagine the calming effects of these high-tech audio devices on a tense patient in your treatment room.

The reason I bring up the headsets is because of a recent experience I had with Bose, a well-known maker of outstanding audio equipment. I wear noise-cancelling headphones when I travel and at home when I’m trying to concentrate on a project. At times, extraneous noise makes me nuts. Last week when I needed quiet, I put on my Bose Quiet Comfort headphones, but they felt strange. A part of the headband had broken and bare metal was poking me in the head.

The following day I phoned the Massachusetts-based company. After a series of automated selections, a cheerful customer service representative named Nathan came on the line. He asked for the model number, which turned out to be a series of microscopically small, raised numbers on the inside of the headband. It was impossible to decipher without magnification loupes. A small piece of plastic was the only broken part, but Nathan said the company would replace the entire headset with the most current, and much sturdier, model.

Actually, I was not well prepared for the conversation with Nathan. I did not have the model number ready and did not have the paperwork regarding the company’s replacement policy, so it was a lucky day to cross paths with an employee whose company really understands the meaning and importance of customer service.

I purchase the headphones from a patient several years ago after he was fitted with custom earplugs. He had bought the headphones on my recommendation, and had worn them only a few times. I never expected the company to replace the entire unit. It would have been fine with me if they’d simply replaced the broken part.

Details can be killers. Details can make or break a relationship. The experience with Bose made me think about all of the annoying things in fine print that we don’t get around to reading, much less taking the time to understand. For example, how many of us really take the time to read a product’s warranty information, guarantee, or return policy?

I confess, I am not going to take the time to understand how to return a product that costs one dollar, but what about a purchase like a curing light, a new sealant material, or an ergonomic chair? Is it worth our time to understand the details of those types of purchases? It is a lot easier to get a replacement or a refund if you know the rules going into the game. Most companies want happy customers who sing the praises of their products, reorder, and try what is new.

Speaking of reading, how many of you routinely read directions on new products? Is it really necessary to understand all of the details for something like a desensitizing agent? You don’t save much time if you don’t understand exactly how to apply the product or the possible contraindications for use. There is a world of difference in applying a prophy paste-based desensitizer vs. one that must only be applied to exposed dentin.

Can you answer any of these questions? If the paste contains casein, a protein found in milk, did you know that it should not be used on patients who are sensitive to dairy products? Are you aware of any potential soft-tissue side effects if a drop or two of desensitizer gets on the gingivae? Will the product create a chemical burn, or just a bad taste in the mouth? Should the patient wait before brushing or flossing? Is the product a self-curing agent, or does it need a light to activate properly? The questions go on and on.

Let’s expand on the concept of prophy paste. There are several on the market that are formulated to treat sensitive teeth. There are also products specifically developed to minimize scratching cosmetic restorations. Several of these specialty polishes actually restore luster, and many are available without flavors or dyes. These products are perfect for patients who have a history of sensitivity to artificial flavors and colors, or in a situation where fluoride is contraindicated. Do you select a particular grit type for each polishing case, or do you even polish every patient at this point in time?

Another set of annoying details comes to mind - your office policy manual and the written agreement between you and your employer. Oops! Did this touch a nerve? I can just hear some of you muttering, “What office manual?”

OK, if your practice does not have one, are you willing to get one started? Yes, this is more work for you, but it could change the course of your career. If there is not a specific written policy regarding overtime, holiday pay, uniform allowances, office hours, and a host of other things, then you may not have a leg to stand on if a misunderstanding or dispute occurs.

Your office manual could also be hopelessly out-of-date, which could result in a very uncomfortable predicament in the future. Your interest in helping update the document could be just what the practice needs to make sure office policies reflect a fair and equitable distribution of duties and benefits.

Here is a good example of how a procedure could change. Who is responsible for booking appointments in your practice? Years ago, this task was under the total control of the business administrators. Now, many offices have computers in every nook and cranny. Are you expected or encouraged to book your own patients? If so, are you given adequate time in your schedule to reflect this change? I’m not making a judgment on who books the schedule; rather, I’m bringing up the question of whether your office manual has been revised to reflect the change in protocol.

If the thought of tackling a project like an office manual is thoroughly unappealing, do you have a simple, but clear, written agreement with your employer? It is not necessary to make a big deal about an agreement, but it is important to spell out the basic details to minimize any future misunderstanding.

Here is one final thought about details. Do you have your own professional liability and disability coverage? I’m not talking about the coverage your employer may have. I’m asking about coverage that you purchase for yourself.

If the answer is no, please educate yourself about these two subjects. Every day dental hygienists are sidelined by workplace-related injuries. Others get knocked out of the workforce from accidents, injuries, and illnesses that have nothing to do with dental hygiene practice but prevent these valuable professionals from practicing. Whether the problem is temporary or permanent, many individuals and families suffer financially and emotionally when these disasters strike. Some never recover.

Do yourself a favor and learn all that you can about protecting yourself. Read the information carefully. Study the contract definitions. Ask questions. Understand the details. Know the differences between group policies and an individual, custom, written contract. Learn about premiums, riders, and exclusions. Remember, you are in business to protect yourself.

It is not selfish, foolish, or a waste of time to develop the habit of learning the rules and understanding the details. In fact, the more prepared you are, the better your comfort zone.