Thursday Troubleshooter: Rampant staff cell phone use, including dentist, concerns staff member

This dental staff member politely puts her cell phone away during the workday. Her fellow dental team members aren't quite as considerate, and it's affecting patient care. The dentist/practice owner is one of the worst offenders, even losing track of conversations with patients due to checking his cell phone!

Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 04 Cell Phones 1

QUESTION: My question is about cell phone use in the office. The doctor who owns the practice is on his phone continuously, and his phone doesn't leave his side. I've noticed him discreetly checking who’s called or texted him while he’s working on a patient. He walks out of the room in the middle of a conversation with staff or patients and doesn't even remember what he said. Nobody can get his attention, and when they do he admits he didn’t hear a word, so he asks what he missed and tries to pay attention. Also, I've noticed that the assistants get too many texts, and then all of a sudden an assistant will become upset over something and have to leave. What do you think about this? I've also noticed that the front desk staff is always checking their phones, and that includes the office manager! I find all of this very rude and I can't deal with it. I check my phone at 3:15 to see if my kids arrive home from school safely, and that way the office doesn't have to be bothered. Do you think I'm wrong?

Cell Phones

ANSWER FROM BRIDGET FAY, Senior Consultant, Odyssey Management, Inc:
You have good reason to be discouraged about this! I would feel pretty discouraged if I knew someone wasn’t paying attention to me and I had to repeat everything, all because of a cell phone. Imagine what patients must feel like! Depending on your office policy, you might want to follow a chain of command and start by going to the office manager. Pick a time when you’re less likely to be interrupted, and if there’s anyone else who feels the way you do, see if they will join you for this discussion. Tell the office manager what you’ve noticed with the cell phone usage, and that you’re worried it will affect patients, and that staff members are feeling abandoned during important conversations.

Rampant cell phone use in the office is a lot like driving while texting. Attention is taken away from the task at hand and that’s when mistakes are made. This entire situation might be a result of no one wanting to say anything because he’s the practice owner and if he does it, then it must be OK for everyone else to do it. Explain that you’re simply not sure if everyone is aware of how rampant the cell phone use has become, and you fear it will affect patient care and customer service. If that doesn’t strike a chord, I’m not sure what will. Hopefully a conversation like this will prompt the office manager to address the issue with the doctor, and a cell phone policy will be implemented. Best wishes!

ANSWER FROM LYNNE LEGGETT,Victory Dental Management, LLC:
I can understand your frustration with this situation. It seems like most staff members in the office are letting their cell phones dictate when they work with patients versus adhering to the schedule. Also, management in the office is setting a bad example for the staff. If there’s an emergency and someone has to answer their cell phone, that’s one thing. However, to constantly have interruptions to patient care is not professional or respectful to your patients. I have found cell phone use in offices can become a problem if it’s not addressed by policy in the personnel manual.

Why spend valuable time, money, and effort on a marketing plan, training, and improving skills, and then not show patients how much you value them? The behavior on the cell phones is counterintuitive to letting patients know they are important. I’m not sure who you report to in your office, but my suggestion is to have a meeting with your doctor regarding this issue. Explain to him that you’re looking out for his best interest, his patients, and his practice. If you’re noticing a lot of cell phone use, then chances are so are the patients. A very basic expectation of your patients is to have the attention of their doctor and staff regarding their health. This cannot be done if the staff is distracted when looking at their phones and not focusing their attention on their patients.

I wish you good luck with this situation. Hopefully after your meeting, a policy will be put into place that all staff members will be required to adhere to.

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