It's Like Playing A Game of Clue!
Many a day my staff and I have a good laugh at some of the crazy calls they have received. One prospective patient called requesting that I remove a chip that had been placed in her tooth by the CIA. It seems that she had been abducted by aliens and knew who killed JFK and now the CIA was tracking her.
Another caller wanted to know if we carry electric toothbrushes; when told “yes,” they wanted to know why. Upon providing the advantages for some people for using an electric toothbrush such as braces, poor dexterity, etc., the caller exclaimed, “Well you shouldn’t recommend them, they are a tool of Satan” – and hung up!
So where am I going with this? Thank goodness these crazy calls are not the norm. Prospective patients call for many reasons, to ask for information or to set up an appointment; former patients, who have moved away or haven’t been seen in many years, also call for many reasons. Responding to these calls in an appropriate and helpful way is difficult if we are not given necessary information.
This month I have asked Jennifer, my office manager, to write about this topic. This information is appropriate for any appointment you may be calling about, be it medical or dental.
A Game of Clue | Staff Article
Sometimes, answering the phone is like playing a game of Clue. We have to figure out what a patient is asking for, if it’s an emergency situation, or more of a ‘routine’ visit, how much time to leave and where to schedule the patient. An emergency may be that there is a broken tooth, pain, a bridge that has fallen out, or swelling. We ask several questions to try to determine if the patient should be referred, seen that day or the next, or if the problem can wait. (More than once we’ve had a patient need “emergency bleaching” appointments! How is that an emergency, you ask? Because their high school photos were the next day). Regardless, we try our best to give the patient the visit they need. However, this is not always so easy.
Sometimes a patient will call to have their amalgam fillings replaced. They come in for an exam, which is two hours long, and it turns out they’ve never had a cavity! We’ve had perspective new patients say that they are in good health, and have no dental issues, and request a hygiene a appointment rather than a full exam. When they are here for the hygiene visit, they have auto immune issues, several root canals and silver fillings, and the patient wants to know what to do about all of those things; but we don’t have time during a cleaning to address that, like we would in the full new patient exam. So, the patient needs to come back for a separate visit. In the first case, the patient may be upset that they wasted their time on an issue that they didn't even have, and in the latter case, that all their issues couldn't be addressed in a hygiene visit and that they have to come back.
Here are a few scenarios of patient calls and dental visits that turned out to be very different than what the caller said over the phone.
Frank called to say he had pain in the tooth Dr. Breiner told him to have extracted or have a root canal (three years before this call) and wanted to know if we could see him that day. Since we could not, he called the oral surgeon we referred him to. The oral surgeon’s office called to ask if we could email his images, because Frank told them we referred him there and had x-rays. When the oral surgeon’s office called, we told them we didn’t have any x-rays that were current – Frank hadn’t been in for over three years. Their receptionist was confused, it turned out Frank was in their dental chair at that moment, with a film x-ray in his hand. She was calling to see when we took the x-ray. Who knows where that x-ray was done or when. Frank didn’t even remember, so the oral surgeon had to waste time waiting for information from yet another dental office.
Jill called to say she needed to have a filling we “recently” placed fall out. We couldn’t find her anywhere in the data base. We asked if she had a different last name, and after a minute, we realized she had not been in for over 10 years and had been seeing a local dentist since she moved out of state in 2005. She was also not sure she could make the trip back to Connecticut, so we were at a loss how to help her.
We never expect a patient to know exactly what may be in their mouth or what the specific nature of the problem may be. However, knowing some basic information that you can relay to the office is extremely important. Not just for us, but for any dental or medical office. Being upfront is essential, as well. For instance, don't be embarrassed to tell us that a crown that has come loose was done in another office. We may need to contact that other office to find out the type of crown in order for us to pick out the best material to use to recement it.
At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure a patient gets what they need, emergency or not. It’s hard to play Clue when the information you have been given isn’t accurate.
Thank you, Jennifer.
© 2018, Mark A. Breiner, DDS
The information presented is for educational purposes only. Please consult a qualified dentist or health practitioner for diagnosis and treatment.