Do you remember this commercial from the early 80s with the lady tapping on the glass at Mervyn’s?
We say it all day long. “Open please… Open… Can you open a bit more?” Or sometimes, I suppose, we don’t even say a word. We might just look at the patient and expect them to know when and how wide they should open.
When you sit down with your new patient, do you ask them to open? Quite literally, do you ask permission? Or do you get right down to the business of dentistry and start charting, #2MOL composite with lingual caries, #3 porcelain crown…You get the point.
A little over a year ago, I began attending a local study group hosted by a local specialty practice. One of the first meetings I attended was on the “new patient exam.” I did learn a lot that night that I could put into practice, but the biggest change I made was incorporating actually asking permission to enter, if you will, my patients’ personal space. My lead-in is usually something like, “If you don’t have any other questions before I begin, can I lean you back and take a v look?” When I began asking this seemingly innocuous question, patients took notice. It was nothing extreme, but it was noticeable to me that the majority of my patients appeared to appreciate my request.
In addition to the literal physical act of having a patient open up, have you given your patients the opportunity to open up from an emotional perspective? It is our responsibility as doctors to complete the exam, but it is also just as much our responsibility as human beings to HEAR what the patient’s story is. They are physically, and often emotionally, opening up, exposing themselves. For many of them, fear, anxiety, and embarrassment have kept them away far too long. Perhaps giving them three to five minutes of our undivided attention isn’t too large a sacrifice.
What may seem like useless chatter can be much more. Listen for it; you might be surprised by what you learn. Not only listen, but ask permission if you aren’t already doing so. I have found that it creates a relaxed and comfortable environment which leads to a relaxed and comfortable patient. And that makes me OPEN up and say, “Aahhhhhhh…”
Colleen B. DeLacy, DDS, FAGD