Stealing time, composure, and profit

Likely, a recent change in your office has not been addressed. Like a Stealth Bomber, it arrived unnoticed.

Likely, a recent change in your office has not been addressed. Like a Stealth Bomber, it arrived unnoticed. Each day, it threatens to affect your profitability, stress levels, and time. It even affects your patients’ time. What is this clandestine thief that eats away at your practice life?

It’s the cell phone.

Most of us regulate our workdays using appointment schedules. We allot reasonable time for each procedure. After repeated trials, we know how much time is required. Yet, when our patients’ cell phones ring and they answer, we have no way to compensate for the time used. Some calls are merely momentary interruptions, while others drag on eating up the clock. You cannot plan for such lost time.

How does it feel when you are in the midst of a difficult impression, bonding veneers, or prepping a difficult area when suddenly you are interrupted by your patient’s squirming to retrieve a cell phone from a purse or pocket? My blood pressure goes up and I can feel the stress levels building. Restraining myself and maintaining a professional, courteous demeanor is a tradeoff for straining my stomach lining, cardiac muscle, and blood pressure.

How about the impact of the telephone ringing? Has it ever startled you? Have you ever had your hands jump from the sudden loss of concentration? Patients do not understand that an air turbine at 500,000 rpms brings them close to a hair lip if you are suddenly distracted.

Let’s not forget our next patient who has rightfully come on time and expects to be seen on schedule. A couple of phone calls taken by the patient in your chair can mean the difference of a happy or irritated next patient in your reception room.

After liberal efforts failed, we discovered a solution. We posted a polite sign in our reception room and every treatment room. My dental assistant or hygienist confronts patients at the beginning of every visit just prior to seating them. We ask patients to affirm that their cell phones are turned off. Notice we did not say “on vibrate.” We said “off.” Period! We explain that our administrative staff can monitor any critical calls arriving during patients’ visits, in which case they must hand over their phones knowing that our administrative staff will decide if any emergency exists that would require patients’ immediate attention.

We also have placed a short paragraph in our newsletter explaining our policy and why it is necessary. It’s ­important that you repeat the explanation periodically so it gets noticed. It also shows you believe it’s in your patients’ best interest, not just your own. Here is the wording:

These are the words we use on our treatment room sign, together with a diagram of a cell phone that is crossed off.

“Please make sure your cell phone is off. Thank you! Our administrative staff can monitor your calls, if required.”

Doctor, start thinking of your treatment room as a hospital operating room. Interruptions are costly, dangerous, annoying, and they are just plain rude. A doctor rates respect. Join your staff in a discussion. Then, develop your cell phone management policy. Remove this costly, unwelcome intruder from your practice, and I’ll see you at the top.

Albert L. Ousborne Jr., DDS, is a practicing dentist in Townson, Md. He has served as president of the American Academy of Dental Practice Administration, and lectures on creating a successful practice with professionalism. Reach him at (410) 828-1177.


Although we realize the importance of your time, we ask that you turn off your cell phone prior to entering our treatment rooms or check it in with the treatment coordinator. We need the entire ­appointment time with no disruptions to do our best treatment. Please be courteous and assist us in eliminating any distractions. Should you have an emergency call pending, please notify our front desk and explain how you would like it managed.

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