Sheri's Solutions: Patient expectations

2012 10 09 14 00 55 783 Sheri Doniger 2012 70

By now you've no doubt heard about the events in the offices of Dr. W. Scott Harrington of Tulsa, OK.

Unfortunately, this turn of events will give patients yet another reason not to visit the dentist. With the recent headlines from the current issue of the ADA News, stating "Fewer adults visiting the dentist," this does not help. Aside from fear of the unknown and the cost of care, dental patients do not need any other excuse not to visit us.

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.
Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.

Interestingly, due to all the media attention, I had a very interesting day yesterday.

One of my long-time patients came in and said, "You were the topic of conversation at dinner last night." I was honored. She went on to say that she and her son were talking about the Tulsa incident and the cleanliness level in the office. He said, "I never even thought about it." She said, "Me neither, I expected it to be clean."

After she told me this, I took this patient on a tour of our office, showing her the new autoclave, the difference between autoclaved and nonautoclaved bags, and our spore-testing history. She didn't ask, but I wanted to do a show and tell.

She said she had no doubt. She saw the bags being opened and the cassettes being utilized. She knew I wore (and changed) gloves at each procedure, sometimes even during the procedure. She expected me to be clean.

But I had a different experience with a new patient. Although she did not formally ask, I felt compelled to discuss our infection control procedures. I opened the sealed bags with a flourish, showing her the heat indicator marking and discussing our habit of donning fresh gloves and masks, and why I wear safety glasses. We spoke about infection control, and she, too, said, "I expected it to be clean here."

Patients have expectations of a clean, safe dental office. We do so many things behind the scenes that patients take for granted (or, as per my patient, rarely even give a passing thought). Not showing a patient a needle prior to injection is a smart practice builder; not discussing the office's infection control protocol may not be. As with my small sampling of patients yesterday, only one mentioned the incident in Tulsa. Others were confident that safety and security were implicit and inherent in our practices.

With major news media outlets giving tips to patients to watch for gloves and office cleanliness, expect a few questions from even your most loyal dental patients these next few weeks. And if they do not ask, be proactive and let them know what your infection control protocols are.

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. 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. Most recently, she was the editor of Woman Dentist Journal and Woman Dentist eJournal. You can reach her at

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