Trusting a Dentist
I was taught to honor the Doctor-Patient Relationship above all else in my profession. Trust is earned and not bestowed lightly, and it is essential to achieving excellence in dental care. Because it cannot be purchased and because once lost it is almost impossible to get back, trust should be considered priceless. The foundation of the Doctor-Patient relationship is mutual respect and deep trust.
This article will hopefully help you recognize the building blocks of a trusting relationship in evaluating and selecting a dentist. These characteristics that build trust apply in many other situations, but as a dentist who has been successfully treating patients for nearly four decades, I am drawing on my extensive experience and, I believe, wisdom in the dentist and patient “courtship”.
It might prove interesting to start with if we look at this relationship-building from the dentist’s point of view. It goes without saying that we dentists evaluate new clients as prospective patients and look for the building blocks of trust. For the most part we value openness and honesty just as much as you do. In order to submit insurance claims in your behalf, we need accurate information about your coverage. Very often new patients have no or just sketchy information about their policies and many times they give us outdated, incorrect data, which creates stress for all of us as we try to set up their accounts. Having up-to-date and accurate insurance policy information is a definite plus for building a trusting relationship.
In addition to insurance company information, we need statistical personal information that in this day of hacking and identity theft many of us are careful not to divulge. Yet insurance companies use your social security number and date of birth to identify you and we like to send email birthday cards to you along with appointment reminders. So having your accurate mailing address, telephone numbers, email address, as well as the other data, is important and helps us build trust with you.
We request that non-emergency new patients submit to a comprehensive examination and evaluation before we schedule any other needed treatment. It helps us build trust if our potential new patients cooperate with us even though this examination appointment takes around 45 minutes. It is extremely difficult to diagnose and advise a patient honestly and accurately unless we take the time to do most if not all of these parts of the examination: a thorough review of your medical history, including any medications you maybe currently taking, a complete mouth x-ray screening, a visual head and neck examination, including a soft tissue oral cancer screening, and a periodontal screening including pocket depth measurements. We then sufficient time to answer any of your preliminary questions and concerns.
Also part of the trusting relationship is the mutual agreement to keep appointment times and financial plans as much as possible. It goes without saying that a good relationship has a minimum of surprises. Each honors the other’s time as far as appointments are concerned and each honors their financial agreements, allowing for flexibility for occasional changes in status.
Now, if you are facing questions about choosing or evaluating your dentist, let me offer these suggestions from your point of view. First and foremost, you need to understand and be comfortable with what your dentist and his/her office staff are telling you. Basically we are required to inform you of your situation, your options, the consequences of pursuing any of your options, likely complications of any treatment we provide, and, of course, the financial obligation you assume. Additionally, you need to know what will likely happen if you do nothing at all. This requirement is called “informed consent” and you must be able to understand all of these factors in order to legally consent to treatment.
“Informed consent” does not mean that you understand in minute detail everything about your course of dental care and the status of your dental health. What it does mean is that you understand enough to trust us and are willing to freely decide what treatment you want. This understanding implies that you be able to ask questions and receive understandable answers. “Informed consent” also leaves completely open your right for a second opinion without censure or guilt. Rapport is a word that implies a mutual respect and communication between people that builds trust and understanding. If you can’t get your questions answered in a manner that makes sense to you, then I doubt you can trust this dentist.
Information that is vital to have in addition to what I have already mentioned under “informed consent” would include the office financial policy–what terms are available for financing, interest charges and prepayment fee reductions. It is also important to know what the office policy is on late or failed appointments–is there a fee for a failed appointment? Clear cut communication on the business elements of the dental experience are important parts of building a trusting relationship and the dentist and his/her staff should take the lead in communicating this information. Questions should be welcome, but you shouldn’t have to pry the information out of them.
The doctor and staff should be easy to reach by phone, text or email. Expecting same day return calls to your messages should be routine and in the case of an emergency the doctor should be available by phone within the hour of your call. An informative Website, Facebook page and other media are also very helpful in keeping a relationship transparent and honest. Internet referral websites such as Yelp can also provide you with valuable clues about the dentist and their practice. Others who have written reviews can bolster your trust, but a word of caution here. Personal referral from someone you know and trust already is the best reference you could hope for. The people who write and post the reviews on Yelp are not personally known to you so take those opinions with a bit of caution.
Be aware that 1-800 Dentist is a proprietary referral service paid for by the dentists on the service. They may be fine, trustworthy dentists, but a referral recommendation from this service is an expense paid by the advertising member dentists. If you seek a local referral source consider calling the Western Los Angeles Dental Society (310) 349-2199 the local component of the California and American Dental Association. Member dentists of the CDA/ADA are pledged to uphold a higher code of ethics and in my opinion are a bit more trustworthy. There is also a “find a dentist” link on the national level with the American Dental Association: Find a Dentist
Building a trusting Doctor/Patient relationship is not too much different from developing a close trusting relationship with a friend. The relationship should feel open, honest, friendly and respectful. You should be able to ask questions and expect understandable answers. The feelings need to be mutual by both parties. Building this relationship takes time and it helps if you were referred to each other by a mutual friend/patient. Second opinions are important for both parties, so if you seek an opinion from a specialist to help you diagnose and understand your needs, this can help you to confirm my recommendations. There is no need for embarrassment or fear of offending the other party. People who trust each other can honestly discuss these needs and build stronger relationships, not weaken them.
The requirement of “informed consent” means that you the patient must have a reasonable understanding of the responsibilities, consequences, benefits and options available to you before consenting to any treatment. It is our task to provide this information to you, but we can’t do it without your help. We need your cooperation in gathering the data, answering our questions, posing your questions of us and eventually investing in us your trust and loyalty. Having successfully traced this path then I think it likely that we can trust each other!