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You can’t always trust the telephone

14 July 2014
Meeting someone face-to-face and talking to them on the telephone can yield entirely different impressions...

A male patient telephoned a dental practice requesting an examination as a new patient. He was monosyllabic in his conversation with the receptionist and spoke quickly in clipped sentences. He listed a series of demands for treatment despite the receptionist trying to inform him that the dentist would only be carrying out an examination as the patient was new to the practice.

The patient also asked to speak directly to the dentist but was informed that he was busy and would explain matters fully to the patient at the examination.

The receptionist was concerned that the patient would present management difficulties but arranged an examination appointment. She informed the dentist of her concerns. The dentist subsequently telephoned Dental Protection to ask if he was obliged to register the patient as he was also now concerned about his attitude.

The dentist was reassured that he was under no obligation to register any patient, but that as the patient had been given an appointment this could be seen as the first step in the creation of a positive professional relationship.

The dentist was also informed; however, that any treatment requested by a patient must be good clinical practice and that it should not be carried out without the dentist’s agreement. It was also stressed that a clear line of communication with the patient would help to establish a good professional relationship.

Complete contrast

When the patient arrived, the reality was a complete contrast to the impression he had created over the telephone. Face-to-face enquiry revealed that he had received unsatisfactory treatment under general anaesthetic as a child. This had frightened him badly, he had not attended the dentist for many years and he felt very anxious about telephoning a dental surgery.

All of the anaesthetic and sedation options were explained to the patient in the surgery and he was able to ask all the questions he wished at this consultation. He was greatly reassured and subsequent treatment was uneventful. He became a very pleasant, relaxed and co-operative patient.

This case demonstrates how telephone communication alone can be misleading. The receptionist’s impression of the patient proved to be mistaken as she had been unable to see him and so could not respond to his obvious nervousness. Had he called at the surgery to make an appointment in person, a better picture of his personality would have been apparent.

Learning point:
Body language augments the spoken word and should always be taken into account when assessing a patient .
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These case studies are based on real events and provided here as guidance. They do not constitute legal advice but are published to help members better understand how they might deal with certain situations. This is just one of the many benefits dental members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
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