When you see patient after patient day after day, it can become easy to view the people you treat as metrics instead of individuals. We can get bogged down in the numbers and output. So, I recommend taking a step back to remember that each patient is unique. When you treat every person as the individual they are, you not only provide better patient care, but you will also find each day to be more rewarding. Here are some ideas to help you focus on people instead of metrics.
Approach every patient with fresh eyes
Treatment protocols are necessary, but this doesn’t mean there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to handling patients. Some may need intensive treatment while others may need a regular cleaning and education about preventive care. If you approach every patient with the same treatment framework, you’ll miss out on opportunities to improve each person’s overall oral health.
At Aspen Dental practices, doctors and hygienists alike strive to make patients feel like a priority and not just another hygiene case that day. We push ourselves and our colleagues to find new and better ways to comprehensively care for patients, which is possible by viewing patients as individuals with unique histories, backgrounds, and oral care needs.
Do not allow yourself to become entrenched in the “prophy mill” mindset, where all patients are given prophylactic dental cleanings and sent on their way, regardless of any additional problems they may have. By approaching each patient with fresh eyes, you will easily be able to provide the right level of care for each individual; not too little and not too much.
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Understand each patient’s “why”
While patients may have similar oral health needs, they all have very different reasons for their situations. When you understand the “why” behind a patient’s oral health situation, it’s easier to see that patient as an individual and create the most sustainable treatment plan for them.
I once had a patient who hadn’t been to a dentist in 10 years. He found his way to my treatment chair because he feared he needed dentures to fix a broken lower tooth. During his new-patient visit, I learned that after two years of homelessness, he was back on his feet and able to take care of himself again. After treating him for severe bacteria buildup and periodontal disease, I was able to tell him the great news that he would not need dentures. At his follow-up appointment, he thanked me and told me he had a brand-new outlook on life.
Had I not searched for his “why,” I would have missed an opportunity to connect with a new patient on a deep level and create the best possible treatment plan for him.
Involve patients in their own care
It’s easy to fall into the provider-patient dynamic where doctors and hygienists hold all the answers and patients accept care or not. This type of relationship is detrimental for providers and patients; we may see patients as obstacles, and they may see us as distant.
Nip that situation in the bud by involving patients in their own care as soon as possible. I present each patient with every treatment option available, then encourage them to do their own research to find what works best for them. We want patients to be on their own care team instead of simply the recipient of a predetermined care plan.
I love to help patients reach their oral health goals and create and maintain healthy smiles, and I love to educate them about dental hygiene and home care. These are the most rewarding aspects of my job, and they all require the “patient as an individual” mindset. When we approach every patient with fresh eyes, seek to connect on a deep level, and include them in care decisions, we create greater job satisfaction for ourselves, and provide the best possible experience for each and every patient.