Friday, June 10, 2016

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Last week, my friend sent me a text message complaining that she had to wait for her hygiene appointment at her dentist’s office and that the delay was cutting into her appointment time. “What should I do?” she asked me. Then, before waiting for my response, another text message came through. She said she had voiced her frustration and that the front desk staff members were not going to have a good rest of their day. Yikes.

I tried to imagine what might have held up the staff that day: an anxious new patient who might have needed additional time, an equipment malfunction, or a child who may have had difficulty cooperating, or perhaps the dentist had an emergency patient whose front tooth broke while he or she was skateboarding, and the patient was, naturally, squeezed into the schedule alongside an extraction and a grafting procedure. Any of these (or worse, a combination of any of these) can likely throw off any perfectly laid-out schedule that appears flawless at the morning huddle. Has this happened to anyone?

I asked if my friend has strong connections with her providers, whether her schedule allowed for a wait, and whether it was going to be long time before she could get in again. It was probably worth it to stay, I indicated. “I love my hygienist,” she replied, “but I like to stick to my schedule.” Well, we like to stick to our schedules, too, as providers. We don’t like to fall behind, and neither do we like our front desk staff being scolded for it. I don’t like patients to wait longer than a reasonable amount of time. I recall a new patient once scornfully asking if we always ran late. Meanwhile, the delay was exactly three minutes, and her appointment happened to be during a massive New England winter storm. I believe the view of cars skidding and near-zero visibility answered her question.

There are wait times that are unacceptable, and our goal should be to swiftly bring patients in and out as a courtesy and as good service. But should there be unexpected and unavoidable delays, they ought to be managed with grace and solid communication. My friend was right: Had she been told upfront that the team was running behind, she may have rescheduled her appointment, and all would have ended well. It turns out, all did end well. She was seen by her favorite hygienist, had a fruitful conversation with her dentist, and ultimately left happy and satisfied. I was happy for her (and for the dental office for not losing a patient that day and for not being further scolded).

One of my text messages to my friend was: “Be nice to them; they treat people, not cars.” Patients sometimes cry and may have urgent needs and medical and physical barriers. Disregarding them to remain on a rigid time schedule goes against the very core of our objective — caring for them. My friend left the dentist office that day having received the attention and care she valued — and she admitted that was well worth the wait after all.

Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD

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