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The New Patient Examination

Posted Jun 13 2009 12:17am

    I believe that the new patient examination sets the tone for everything that comes after that initial visit.  This appointment tells the patient whether or not you are serious about dentistry.  It can show them that you want to understand who they are and what they want and need. 
    In our office we do a Pankey style new patient exam.  That means we really try to understand our patient.  When the patient arrives, I take them into my office to get to know them and to help them understand our philosophy and who we are.  If handled correctly, this part of the exam can give you valuable information about your patient's fears, anxieties, expectations and desires.  You can find out what they liked about previous experiences and what they hope never happens again.  In turn, it is your chance to present the staff and dentist in their best light and to let the patient see how much your practice has to offer to them.
    Once you move into the examination operatory, you will not only chart existing restorations, you have an extremely important opportunity to educate the patient about their oral health.  Many times, no one has ever bothered to explain the conditions in their mouth or explained what treatments are available. Often patients comment that it is the most thorough exam they've ever had.  Some even express a certain amount of annoyance that their previous dentist did not take the time to do the same thing.
    Finally, once the prescribed diagnostics are completed, you have the opportunity to fill the doctor in on any information that you have received from the patient that will help him connect quickly and understand what they are hoping for from your practice.  By this time, not only is the patient much more aware of their oral condition, they are anxious to meet the dentist because you've spoken so highly of him.  The meeting is much less awkward than usual and the patient much more relaxed. 
    Finally, by recording all your findings, both clinical and personal, the staff has the advantage of knowing more about the patient at their first encounter.  When the hygienist sees the patient for the first time, it is much warmer for her to be able to say, "I see you have a 13 year old daughter, so do I.", then to ask her again, "How many children do you have?" 
    It's more personal and it tells the patient that your practice is special.  This is a practice that patients tell their friends about.  You can build systems into your own practice to make this type of exam fit into your day.  We set aside 90 minutes on our schedule for this exam.  The doctor spends anywhere from 20-30 minutes with the patient.  You will need to identify a dental assistant or hygienist that has a good knowledge of operative dentistry to perform everything but the diagnostic segment of the exam.  In practices that have a lot of downtime in hygiene, this can be a very good solution.  Designating an assistant to be your patient care coordinator is another great option.  It's an initial investment in each patient that has inestimable value.

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