How to navigate open communication between the patient and dental professional.
The relationship a patient has with their dentist is very personal, particularly if you have major dental issues. Imagine my horror when my oral surgeon told me that my dentist had sold his practice and was retiring at age 63. What a shocker! I have an appointment in 2 weeks to get my crowns started. He was going to have me come for the appointment, order the crowns, and then come back next month when they arrive. Yet, his last day is scheduled for the week after my appointment. Am I overreacting? I am aggravated.
As a patient, he took my decision-making ability away from me. My 2 molars have been missing for 12 months. Due to staffing shortages, the implants kept getting delayed repeatedly. As a result, I had to find a new periodontist to do the implants. She tried to do an implant and was unable to numb me properly. So, I was sent off to the oral surgeon. Try getting into all of these schedules during a staffing shortage! It was not so easy. Finally, the appointments were coming up, and then the following happened. This dental office called me last month to see if they could move my crown appointments up. I joked about how the dentist needed to arrange his vacation schedule earlier to not screw up my schedule. They laughed but did not correct me. They knew he had sold his practice and was retiring. They even called my oral surgeon to see if it could be bumped up, but my mouth was not ready.
Some professionals do not understand why I would be miffed. It is not right that I would show up at my appointment, have the crowns made, and then the doctor would retire the following week. It felt like a money grab. “Let’s get the last $5000 from the patient in production before I am out here.” Yes, I am being a bit cynical, but I was frustrated. With a complicated mouth worth over $100,000, don’t I have the right to be involved in making educated decisions for my care? I have complications with everything and my TMJ may get triggered just by getting the crowns done. What is wrong with wanting to make sure that they doctor will be there to take care of me? Doesn’t he owe that to me, the patient?
I called his office and told the receptionist that I wanted to talk to him. I moved forward and scheduled to have the crowns done by a different dentist that I knew one day would take over my care. My dentist called that evening. He understood how frustrated I was to not have been informed. I understand. The notification letter was delayed from the new dentist who bought the practice. My dentist was not allowed to discuss his retirement with his patients until the letter came out.
I know some of you are thinking that the dentist is recommending the best care for me by referring me to a dentist who is buying the practice. I do not agree. The patient needs to be a part of the decision-making process. That is what upset me. When the dentist called, we laughed and joked, and I told him how I felt. He shared that whatever I choose is fine and filled me in on his retirement plans. He told me that he is my friend and that if I ever need to talk to him, I can call him on the cell. With a 20-year history, we have gone through a lot together. I shared how wonderful he has been as a dentist and as someone who truly has provided phenomenal care to me. I so value this. I knew where I would be going to when he eventually retired. Neither of us thought it would happen so early.
His call meant so much to me. Why? Because even though it was managed poorly, he knew he had to fix it so that we would both have closure. Closure means a lot to patients when you close a practice. I get it that practices are sold with the patient base intact. But when you are that patient or that person with a challenging problem, they need to be informed so that they can make smart decisions. Otherwise, it can end a 20-year successful patient/dentist relationship in a puff of smoke. When that happens, the story gets repeated. This is your brand. Protect it even with retirement. Do not be afraid to look at what is in the best interest of your patient. Sometimes, you may have to bend the rules. And that is ok with this patient.
Please share with me your thoughts on how this would have been managed in your office. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org