What else can we be doing?

July 31, 2009
Here are some steps to take when consulting with patients about the results of a dental exam.

Research from Weill Cornell Medical College shows that physicians failed to report clinically significant abnormal test results to patients — or to document that they had informed them — in one out of every 14 cases of abnormal results. In some medical groups, the failure rate is close to zero; in others it is as high as one in four abnormal results.

How about your office?

Patients often, for example, refuse or give us verbal static when it comes to updating their radiographs. Patients' perceptions may be that they are not warranted, nor understand the reason why we require them as part of their overall assessment. So consider, when you take a full mouth series of X-rays, perform a periodontal evaluation, oral cancer screening, and/or caries assessment, what protocol does your office have in place that ensures your patients receive value-driven follow-up results?

I liken this concept to a female's annual Pap smear or a yearly medical blood test. Many medical offices take the "no news is good news" approach. Our patients deserve more. Capitalizing on every health promotion opportunity — while instilling the significance of the connection between oral health and overall health and what we do and the services we provide beyond our practices' walls — is a simple and proactive way of building loyalty and distinction in the minds of your patients.

At this point, many of you may be thinking, "We review the examination during a consult or chairside," and many may even send a written treatment plan that outlines the treatment recommendations. Yet, this article's intent is to push that concept even further and ask, "What else can we be doing as follow-up after examinations and assessments?"

Begin to think about all the potential touch points and incorporating systems that increase our contact with our patients between hygiene visits and or restorative appointments. "Patient specific" communication drives value, a feeling of individualized care and caring, and goes a long way in keeping oral health at the top of mind with our patients.

Basic steps

• A clinician or office administrator should be responsible for managing follow-up communication of examination/assessment results being completed after point of care discussions.

• The practice informs the patients, normal or abnormal, in writing after the appointment.

• The practice documents that the patient has been informed.

Ways to inform patients

• Mail, email, or text message. Examples include "Congratulations on a healthy smile," "Thanks for valuing your oral health, the X-rays we took on (date) are disease free," "Based on your (date) appointment, you our oral health score is 5-star," or "Congratulations, you're decay free."

• Offer complementary copies of radiographs and/or written periodontal examinations charts for your patients. Many patients travel and or have two homes. This is "peace of mind" in the event that they may be in an unfamiliar city or country and encounter a dental emergency.

Let's connect. How does your office disseminate examination/test results? Please email me your protocols at [email protected], and look for your responses in an upcoming issue.

Source: Weill Cornell Medical College