Thursday Troubleshooter: Should dental assistant discourage referrals after poor treatment?

This dental assistant was treated poorly by an officer her office refers to. Should she let her employer know?

Frustrated With Dental Front Office
QUESTION: I’m a dental assistant who recently had an experience as a dental patient, and it was not pleasant. I had a consultation for a crown lengthening procedure, and the dentist I work for referred me to the periodontist. It was determined I need an implant, and they could do the implant I’ve been putting off. I came out with a $3,300 treatment plan, a surgery appointment for the end of July (my consult was in March), and my name on a cancellation list. (I asked for June because that would give me time to hear back from insurance, get my portion of the finances in order, and it was before my benefit year reset.)

Two weeks later, I received a call to move my appointment to later that week. I declined because I had not heard back from insurance. The office called again a short time later with the same offer! I declined again for the same reason. Both times the receptionist was very rude. I have been a dental assistant and orthodontic treatment coordinator for a long time, and I would never dream of responding the way this receptionist did.

When I heard back from insurance, I learned I would lose my dental benefits on May 31. I immediately explained my situation to Madame Implant’s office and told her I could come on short notice, and asked if she could please try to get me in prior to my insurance cut off. Her reply – the doctor’s booked, and it’s unlikely we’ll have a cancellation. My insurance ended on May 31. On June 2 my phone rang. When I saw it was that dental office I was so frustrated I couldn't even answer it. The message was, “We have a cancellation for this Wednesday, June 4. We thought maybe you would like to come in early for your surgery."

I work for an orthodontist who plans to start referring to this periodontist when the man we currently use retires. My dentist is the one who referred me to this periodontist. After the way I was treated, should I intervene and discourage future referrals? It's unfortunate that such incompetent staff can cause wonderfully skilled dentists to lose patient trust and patronage. When I’m able to afford the entire balance, I will not be scheduling any appointments at that office.

ANSWER FROM ROBIN MORRISON,RLM Healthcare Marketing and Consulting:
I can certainly understand how upset you must have been with the way you were treated by the receptionist. It is always easier to say what could have been done after the fact. If we could go back in time, it would have been ideal to speak with your employer about this when it all began. Many times, practice owners are not aware of how team members are handling their patients and managing their practice.

Since it is now after the fact, you have lost your window of time to have your implant while insured, and that is unfortunate. The problem now at hand is your concern about referring patients to this practice. I strongly recommend you discuss this with your employer and encourage him/her to discuss it directly with the periodontist. Specialists are doing everything they can to encourage referrals to their practices. I’m quite sure the periodontist would want to know about this and be able to take corrective action.

ANSWER FROMLAURA JAMISON, Jamison Consulting:
In this situation I recommend that you recount this scenario exactly as you have in this question and talk to your boss about the experience you had. Many dentists are unfamiliar with what happens to their patients, and need to know what happens after a patient leaves their office. I was in an office recently in which the office manager (working for a periodontist) dropped off goodies for a prosthodontist's practice, and came away from the visit saying very vehemently, "I will not be referring to them until Kathy is gone." The periodontist was alerted to the rude encounter, and he contacted the prosthodontist and explained why he would not be referring.

It sounds like there is time to help this surgeon find out why his practice doesn't meet the needs of the typical patient, let alone someone like you, who works in a dental practice and will share your experiences with your employer. After all, you close with, "It's unfortunate that such incompetent staff can cause wonderfully skilled dentists to lose patient trust and patronage. When I’m able to afford the entire balance, I will not be scheduling any appointments at that office."

My recommendation is to speak to your boss about this encounter and let your boss decide how to approach this. I suspect that time is on your side waiting for the other surgeon to retire.

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