By now, you have probably seen the video that is sweeping across the internet of a woman standing inside a dental practice and adamantly refusing to wear a face mask as she prepares for a dental appointment.
Mandates in certain cities and states for wearing a mask in public and/or when entering a business have been met with anger as much as they have been embraced by those worried about the spread of COVID-19. The topic has been a dividing line for many people across the U.S.
What would you do if this woman came into your practice? How would you and your team handle the situation? Would you keep this woman as a patient? Would you allow her to remain in your practice? These are just some of the questions we asked members of the Speaking Consulting Network (SCN), a group comprised of some of the top consultants in the dental industry.
Four members of SCN responded to our questions and provided their comments, along with information on what they are doing in their own practices.
Communication of what to expect prior to the appointment is absolutely needed. There should be signage at the front door of your office reiterating the protocol. Doing the prescreen two days prior should have addressed the lady's concerns. Explaining the need for the protocol may help this person understand, but I doubt it will help. Simply explain that the protocol is in place to help protect her, the team, other patients, and yourself from possible infection.
Since you're following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations and it's being applied to everyone, I don't think any lawyer is going to get involved -- but I am not a lawyer.
Be clear about why you have certain guidelines in place. State it clearly. Post it where appropriate. Disrespectful, angry patients are looking for confrontation, especially in this climate. We will not serve you here if you enter without a mask or fail to comply. Often we get so afraid when someone even mentions the word attorney, but there is no need to panic.
My comments are this: OK, you still must wear a mask or leave. If not, you will be escorted out by the police. If attorneys need to get involved, so be it. Other patients can sue you for allowing unmasked patients to roam your office. Which suit do you believe would be more legitimate?
Here is a statement I came up with regarding this: "Our professional responsibility is to serve our patients in an office environment that is safe for our patients and for the dental team. We are basing our treatment decisions following CDC, [Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)], and state guidelines. Therefore, we are requiring everyone, including myself, my patients, and my team, to wear masks. It is a rule that we must follow."
Allowing a person to enter without a mask would be equivalent to not sterilizing our instruments. When I was in private practice, my team and I always strived to "inform before perform." It is so crucial to have clear, written, and oral communication based on sound protocols and backed up with a reason or a "why."
I believe it's important to say, "Here's what we are doing. Here's why we are doing it. Here's the data to back up our decisions."
We need to resist the urge to argue. We need to avoid getting sucked into the emotion. We need to stick with the data and stay calm, cool, and collected. Additionally, we need to listen, ask questions, and call our malpractice carrier in the event that the mask-less individual still wants to sue us.
To restate my first comment, we have a responsibility to create a safe environment for all of our patients and all of our dental team.
Yes, this video is all over the internet. Here is the deal: The team must be trained and prepared as this could happen. There are also nurses and doctors who treat COVID patients -- so, what next? Are you going to deny treating them because they were "exposed?" That could be discrimination.
If your office has a sign saying you must wear a mask to walk around or enter the office, then that is required. This is not about people's rights. This is about doing the right thing. This person has threatened you by saying she contacted her attorney. It was premeditated and the attorney can contact the office. Once she has an attorney, I only speak with the attorney. If she is trespassing, we probably should call the police. We don't need the drama or the risk. She is obnoxious, and I would let her know that we don't tolerate people talking disrespectfully and such.
Personally, I would say, "It sounds like you don't agree on how we run our business and I would suggest you find another dentist." It is definitely a sticky situation. However, she doesn't have a dental emergency and, therefore, I see no need to see her.
Editor's note: All opinions expressed above are those of the individual consultants. Please consult with a lawyer or dental human resources specialist for specific information that can benefit your practice in this situation.
The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.