Keeping in Touch

Jan. 1, 1999
Follow-up care is essential for your patients` sense of well-being. Here are ways you can keep in touch.

Follow-up care is essential for your patients` sense of well-being. Here are ways you can keep in touch.

Clifford Williams, PhD

Advances in computer technology have enabled most of us in the dental profession to remain conveniently connected to a valuable network of services. Nevertheless, many patients are experiencing increased feelings of isolation from their health-care providers. As dentists, we need to be extremely concerned with this disconnection dilemma and take steps to remedy its infiltration.

Our resources today allow us to capitalize on recent technological innovations to assure our patients that we still are very much connected and committed to providing the best quality health care. With the touch of a button, we as professionals now have the ability to avail ourselves almost immediately to increasingly detailed reports on practically every area of treatment rendered.

However, while we are gaining much needed access to the outside world, many of our patients are feeling more and more frustrated and isolated from their individual health-care providers. We should consider the area of patient follow-up care to be a crucial one. Patients want to feel that you still are monitoring their treatment even though you have referred them to a specialist.

Case scenarios

Imagine this case scenario. Kaitlin Jones, the daughter to one of your best referring patients, needs four wisdom teeth extracted. You make the referral to a highly competent oral surgeon in your area. The procedure is completed and all apparently went well. Unbeknownst to you, 48 hours after the surgery, Kaitlin develops an infection and dry socket. The pain is quite severe and it becomes necessary to treat her with pain medication, antibiotics, and the wound needs to be packed.

The normal protocol of sending a follow-up report is obsolete. Many times, even the best of secretaries cannot get around to typing this procedure report at the end of the day. There is a one- to two-day mail-delivery service. We still have to account for another day or two of the dreaded incoming mail bin at our office. It is highly conceivable then that a follow-up call to Ms. Jones will not take place until one week after the surgical procedure is performed. Follow-up folly!

Now, for a moment, imagine another scenario: You have referred Kaitlin to an oral surgeon. The procedure is completed and all went well. To the patient`s astonishment and delight, you call that evening to check on her progress. Now that is impressive, but more important than that is making the connection with your patient!

Three ways to keep in touch

There are three ways we can make an immediate connection with our referring network of specialists: telephone, fax, or computer via e-mail.

This new way of using e-mail not only allows communication between the dentists and specialists, but also allows us to attach other critical information with our follow-up reports - patient medical-history updates, digital photography, computerized digital X-rays, and other text files. Bringing this together can produce a new level of information about a specific patient for the purpose of increasing communication and total quality care.

E-mail and the Internet, with its ability to store and forward pertinent information, will redefine the relationship among the doctors, and among the doctors and patients.

Follow-up care does not stop at our office. It follows the patient through all phases and disciplines in dentistry.

Follow-up folly or follow-up fantasia - the choice is yours! We now have many increased opportunities for interaction and cooperation among primary-health providers and specialists via the computer. We have an obligation to put this valuable tool to good use for the benefit of our patients.

Staying connected is a challenge in any relationship, but with sincere communication and concern we can achieve success. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to shed feelings of separation and isolation from lack of concern.

Many people today long for the touch and contact of another hand, to know that someone else is reaching out, someone who truly cares and values them. Together, let`s reach out and keep in touch.

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