Published February 8, 2020. Staying Healthy Article written by Dr. Joiner for the Capital Democrat.
Rather than a specific to dentistry article this week, I decided to focus on a broader topic that relates to all healthcare and can have a significant impact on your experience in most healthcare settings. The topic is expectations, both for you as the patient and for the healthcare provider.
We live in a time where it seems every interaction is being framed as an us versus them scenario. This is obviously true in our politics, but also in business transactions and even healthcare due to social media and online reviews. We are judging and being judged daily. Therefore, we may tend to seek out discrepancies and problems rather than asking questions and seeking solutions.
One example of conflict of expectations I’ll use in this article, and I’ll assume it is similar for other healthcare settings, is how a new patient experiences a first visit in a dental office. They either base expectations on previous experiences, what they have read on the internet, or purely on what they want it to be like. This is the challenge in healthcare as we are trained to give the best possible care, but this can create a large gap between what a patient is expecting and the experience that is being provided.
In dentistry we see patients who come in and are glad we schedule 90 minutes for a thorough exam for the first visit, but also find frustration when a patient had vastly different expectations such as only wanting one tooth looked at and expected the visit to only take 30 minutes. Unfortunately, it is this large difference in expectations that can create conflict or frustration in healthcare settings. As much as we attempt to clarify these expectations when scheduling, we find it happens at times especially because many appointments are made by a spouse or just miscommunicated.
The other area of conflict and frustration we see is the difference between what treatment is best and what treatment the patient wants. Providers of healthcare are trained and obligated to present the best solution to the diagnosed problems. In dentistry we find this to be a challenge because there can be a vast difference in cost and work needed for the best treatment versus alternative and less predictable options.
The solution to the gap in expectations is communication. The healthcare provider should be asking if you as the patient have questions or concerns, but too often I’ve seen how patients avoid engaging in those conversations. There are also times when healthcare providers may not give enough space for questions and discussion. But in either case, I want to encourage anyone who is a patient in any healthcare setting to be ready to ask questions or communicate what your expectations are.
By having an open line of communication, you are much more likely to receive the care you desire and have a better connection with your healthcare provider. Before any visit in a healthcare setting, I would advise you to take a few minutes and think through what your expectations are for the visit. Also, write out any questions you may have and what you are hoping to learn or outcome from the visit. By doing this, you will be better equipped to speak up and ask questions. If the appointment isn’t going as you expected, I encourage you to say something. Not in an aggressive manner, but simply state what you were expecting and ask why it isn’t happening in that way.
This holds true before you even schedule an appointment. If you are on a tight time schedule, then ask how long the appointment will take and let them know you need to be done by a certain time. The same is true regarding finances, if you are unsure of the costs then be sure to ask. It is much better to ask the question than be surprised later if what you were expecting was different than the reality.
Healthcare providers and office workers are in the business to serve you the patient. By working together with clear lines of communication, the expectation gap can be narrowed and negative experiences avoided.