Secret: The consultation appointment should teach you about the treatment options. It should not be focused solely on selling.
The initial consultation is really an examination of the doctor
It has probably been several years since you took a school exam, but this test should be easy. The answers to all your questions and concerns lie in your hands. Think of this examination as an open book test, which most people pass with flying colors. After thoroughly studying this book, you will be able to ask intelligent questions about your recommended treatment—and the doctor.
Have you heard the phrase “You only get one chance to make a first impression”? In some periodontal offices, the initial consultation is with a staff member such as a hygienist or a dental assistant, and then the financial coordinator is brought in to “close” the deal. The doctor may stop in for a brief “hello” and then disappears. This scenario happens time and time again and does not leave a good first impression.
The initial phone call
We all visit doctors’ offices at some point in our lives, and most can say they have had an experience where they call to make an appointment and are greeted by a gruff, impatient voice that immediately places them on hold (without asking). After several minutes of holding and hearing a loud beeping sound, the call is resumed, our contact information is obtained, and an appointment is given. No time is given to ask questions, and the conversation ends as quickly as it begins.
Needless to say, many of these offices lose prospective patients on a daily basis before an initial visit ever occurs! Here are the criteria we recommend you use to judge the initial phone call:
- The call is answered within three or four rings—you should never get a busy signal.
- A cheerful staff member greets you with a warm “good morning” or “good afternoon.”
- Your questions are answered by someone with a helpful and caring attitude.
- If a staff member cannot answer your questions, you are promptly connected with someone who can.
- Before your initial visit, the office sends you complimentary educational information in the form of booklets, brochures, DVDs, audio CDs, etc.
These materials should carefully explain the different types of procedures the doctor performs. Becoming educated about the dental procedures will help you make the best decision possible regarding your treatment options.
- The staff member works with your schedule to provide a suitable date and time for the appointment.
- Patient registration forms are either mailed or offered online to be filled out before the initial consultation to help expedite the appointment.
- A copy of the office’s financial policy is also provided beforehand. An exact fee quotation requires the doctor’s examination and an evaluation of any X-rays brought or taken. A superior dental office will offer a broad range of fees for the procedure(s) in which you are interested.
- The office informs you that you will be contacted prior to the appointment as a reminder and also to answer any other questions that may arise.
- The practice’s web address is given for additional information such as a map or driving directions to the office’s location.
When scheduling the consultation, the more information you can provide about your desires the better. For instance, if you have had unsuccessful surgery in the past or a bad experience with a previous periodontist, please inform the staff member. This will allow the staff member to ask different questions to personalize your care. For example, previous dental records may need to be obtained before your consultation. Having this information will help the doctor to decide the right treatment options for you.
You may be thinking to yourself that this is a lot of information to give and receive before arriving at the office. As stated before, you should expect exceptional customer service, and this begins with the initial phone call. If the doctor and the staff are not competent and particular about details up front, how competent will they be while treating you?
The initial consultation
Have you ever eaten at a restaurant and noticed that the floors and tables were dirty? Can you imagine what the kitchen looked like? We use our five senses to judge our surroundings, and sight is one of the most important. So, evaluate how the dental office looks. It should be neat, clean, and devoid of any litter. If not, what can you expect about the condition of the surgical instruments and tools that will be used in your mouth?
A good surgical practice is more than just the services from the doctor. The practice should be staffed with competent, top-notch staff members to facilitate meeting all the needs of their patients. A warm, friendly staff member should greet you as you arrive at the office. You should feel more like a “guest” than a patient.
If you did not fill out medical forms prior to your visit, you will be given some to complete. In addition, X-ray films may need to be taken before you consult with the doctor. The staff may review your medical history and ask questions regarding your visit. Then it will be time to meet with the doctor.
The interview with the doctor should be relaxed and informative. He or she will review your medical history and ask questions pertinent to your desires. He or she should use nonmedical terms when discussing treatment options as well as visual aids either in book or video form to help clarify exactly what is involved with the treatment. The doctor should answer with patience and frankness any questions you have. Not only does the doctor need to determine if you are a good candidate for treatment, but you, too, should determine if it is the right thing for you.
Occasionally, a multi-phased treatment plan is needed to bring a patient’s mouth back to health. This will require not only surgical treatment, but also care from the patient’s family dentist. In this situation, the periodontist will collaborate with the referring dentist to discuss the best treatment options and then have the patient back for a treatment conference. At times, treatment between the two offices will need to be coordinated since both offices may need to see the patient on the same day. The more time you spend discussing your options before the surgery, the clearer the overall picture will become.
Am I a candidate for surgery?
With more and more patients taking prescription medicines for health issues, it’s especially important that both the staff and the doctor review the medical history. Certain medications (e.g., blood thinners) will need to be discontinued before treatment, and consulting with the patient’s physician is required.
Local anesthetic agents commonly used by dentists cause the blood pressure and pulse to rise. For this reason, blood pressure readings must be taken before the administration of these agents. Our office routinely encounters patients with unknown or uncontrolled hypertension and refers them to their family physician to get the condition under control before treating them. The motto in the periodontist’s office should be Safety First!