"Well, I guess this is it."
I have heard this twice in the same number of weeks. Some patients have completed treatment and some have not, but they have to move on because of a change in employment, location, or life circumstances.
Patients come into our practice and they also leave. It is the nature of our profession. It is always good when we are able to say goodbye to them, rather than being stymied over their departure.
Why did they leave? What did we do? It is also better than patients not showing up because they don't want to pay their remainder balances, or they are fearful of going to the dentist.
I have always felt our practice is more of a family. When patients come into the office, we form a bond through communication. We receive updates not only about their dental situation, but about their lives, families, and vacations. During our chair chat, we learn about marriages of children, college acceptances, and grandchildren. Sometimes, we also learn about patients or relatives passing.
One practice management course I attended described the relationship with our patients as "dating every six months." For the most part, we only see our patients twice a year. This was more aimed toward treatment acceptance and reinforcing oral care regimen, but it is also important in the interpersonal communicative nature of our business. You have less than five minutes to catch up (unless you are doing your own hygiene and have a few more moments during the hour to discuss both dental and life happenings).
One of my patients moved on to be a superintendent in a community closer to his home. He was previously working closer to our office, and now he will be more than an hour away. It would be geographically impossible for him to continue, especially considering the volume of work it takes to be a superintendent of schools. Another was a newer patient who had to go care for her elderly mother in Florida. She would be possibly selling her home and was unaware of which state she will be living in. As a practice ages, these scenarios play out more often.
I appreciate when patients let us know they will be moving on. We will be able to get their records ready for their new dental home. We will always offer our availability for consultation to potentially offer suggestions for practitioners in their new area. We wish them the best and thank them for their trust and confidence in our practice for the years they were visiting us. We also thank them for saying goodbye. It is the best kind of closure.
Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She is the immediate past president of the American Association of Women Dentists and editor of the American Association of Women Dentists "Chronicle" newsletter. She has served as an educator in several dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefits company, and has written for several dental publications. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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