There have been times that, when I try to tell him something about a patient, I can tell from the look in his eye or his body language that he is not listening to me.
Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS
I work in a busy Midwestern practice for a wonderful doctor. He is involved in a very busy life outside of the office. For example, he has several units of rental property that he manages; he is an avid deer hunter; he sings with a community chorale; and he trades heavily in the stock market.
While none of these outside interests are wrong, he often conducts business during "dental" time. This greatly bothers me, because often when I need him, he is on the phone or the computer. I fear that quality of care is compromised because of his many distractions.
There have been times that, when I try to tell him something about a patient, I can tell from the look in his eye or his body language that he is not listening to me. Getting him to slow down enough to look at an X-ray is sometimes difficult. Either he is looking at the chart, the wall, or anywhere but the X-ray - totally distracted.
I feel dentistry is a very important profession that demands clear thinking and focus. My greatest fear is that, one day, the doctor will find himself in big trouble because of neglecting to document or diagnose something that may be critical to the health of the patient. What should I do?
Concerned in Columbus
You certainly have every right to be concerned. A doctor who is not focused on work can indeed cause problems for staff and patients alike.
Doctors who have many outside interests usually have colorful personalities and abundant energy. My observation is that, after doing dentistry for a few years, some develop a sense of boredom. The outside interests help to keep life interesting and challenging. Indeed, all of us need a life outside of the office.
However, "outside" is the operative word. While patients are being seen in the office for dentistry, the total focus should be on that patient for the full appointment time. This is their time. Indeed, it annoys patients when the doctor does not devote his/her full attention to them. Patients have been known to leave practices where they felt rushed, ignored, or neglected.
It sounds like your doctor/employer needs a little reality check. He is probably unaware that all his distractions are negatively affecting you, the patients, and possibly other staff members as well. My advice to you would be to find a time when you might talk to him personally at the end of the day (after all patients are dismissed). Tell him what a great doctor and person he is and that you appreciate the opportunity to work in his practice. Then, in a nonconfrontational manner, relate to him that you fear for patient safety and for his own well-being because of all the things that daily distract him from focusing on dentistry.
You should be prepared to give examples. So it would be wise for you to document some instances of how he is distracted, in order to jog your memory. In addition, I would guess you are having to wait excessively for hygiene checks if he is tied up frequently on the phone. Keep records of how long you had to wait for several days to determine an average amount of time waiting. This gives you a little more ammunition if you need it. Remember to keep the patient?s best interests in the forefront!
If the doctor is a reasonable person, he will see that you are not trying to make waves for him. He should appreciate your willingness to bring this problem to light before it causes him or a patient harm. I hope, for your sake as well as the practice, that he will change his daily routine and leave his outside interests outside the door each morning when he comes in. However, don?t expect instantaneous change. It may take him a while to slow down and adjust his focus accordingly.
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 dglass[email protected], phone (336) 472-3515, or fax (336) 472-5567.