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Hygienists avoid texting or social media chatter during patient care.

Most dental hygienists are steadfastly opposed to texting or indulging in social media outlets during patient care, according to the results of a survey posted in the Jan. 27, 2012 issue of RDH eVillage.

The questionnaire, which was titled, "OMG! Are you texting behind your patient's back?" prompted responses from 387 dental hygienists, and 75% said they never text or check social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter during a patient appointment.

Kristine Hodsdon, RDH, the director of RDH eVillage and the author of the article preceding the survey, cited a medical case about a "doctor who made a life-threatening mistake because she was distracted when she received a text message from a friend about a party." The anonymous survey encouraged hygienists to "be honest" about their responses about high-tech social interaction during patient care.

Although hygienists participating in the survey strongly discouraged texting, tweeting, or checking online social media accounts during patient treatment, 68% said tech-enabled distractions affect patient care, and 60% indicated they have been "kept waiting while another team member or dentist" texted or checked social media interactions during normal business hours.

In addition, 48% said tech-enabled distractions affect face-to-face connections or the ability to listen to patients (43% said the technology did not offer distractions, while 9% were uncertain).

Of the 25% who do tweet or text during business hours:

  • 45% said social media interruptions during patient care occur once or twice a day.
  • 42% said they have kept a patient waiting while they checked a smartphone or computer.
  • 53% said these high-tech communications are sometimes social rather than "pressing family matters or emergencies."

This group of dental hygienists who do text or check for communications online offered these insights about the impact of this habit on patient care.

"I do not feel it is acceptable to communicate socially through social media during office hours," one hygienist said. "I do, however, feel it is OK to look up medications, medical conditions, doctors' phone numbers, etc., during the course of the workday. And, it should be okay to use texting to get the attention of your doctor, especially since they seem to be the ones with their phones always out of their pockets!"

Another hygienist commented, "I've never done it during patient treatment, per se. However, I have checked my smartphone for emails and texts, but not Facebook, when I had completed my part of the patient's treatment and was waiting for the doctor to examine my patient, or if I was ready for my patient and they were in the restroom or not at the office yet, or if I gave the patient local and was waiting to start their perio treatment.

"My family doesn't tie up phone lines at the office like the old days! A text such as can I 'pick up milk on the way home' is viewed whenever it's convenient. I would never interrupt treatment or hold up a patient or co-worker or my doctor for it. I don't feel it's a big deal to check messages at a convenient time during work hours. I don't feel it 'cheats' my doctor because I take calls/texts/emails/Facebook messages from patients, vendors, and/or our IT guy frequently on my own personal time on my personal phone and computer in the evenings and on weekends."

One hygienist confessed to "fake texting." "If the dentist sees me in the hallway texting, he will hurry up. I admit to 'fake texting' just to get him in the room faster."

For the most part, though, hygienists believe texting or online social media should not be a part of the routine at a dental office.

"It is not OK to have social conversations on the phone or to use technology during the business day, but especially during patient time," a hygienist said. "The patient is paying for your time and it should not be interrupted. I resent co-workers who 'stare' at their phone during the day. When at work, everyone should be working."

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