What My Doctor Can Learn from My Dentist

Amy Sebesta

I truly fear and dread going to the dentist. Despite that, I find myself more engaged and empowered in my dental care experience than at my traditional medical doctor’s office. Let me set the scene:

My doctor’s office is in the suburbs next to a satellite hospital, while my dentist operates in a professional building near a large city medical center. Similar settings, but once you step inside, the differences are immediately noticeable.

When I walk into my doctor’s office, I am greeted by:

  • Florescent lighting
  • Antiseptic smells
  • A children’s play area showing an animated feature
  • A section for adults with magazines and national news blaring
  • An ominous sliding glass panel that divides waiting patients from front office staff

Conversely, when I walk into my dentist’s office, here’s my experience:

  • Low lighting like a spa
  • A single wall-mounted TV displaying a slide show of families, dogs and serene local scenes
  • Calm, cool music; no drills, suction, or shouting TVs
  • One front office staff member in the waiting area like a concierge
  • No other waiting patients

My dentist explained to me his setup is purposeful: loud TVs, scattered magazines, and waiting increases anxiety. So why bother with these “amenities”?  Brilliant! And now, I’m an engaged patient.  I want to come back even though I’d rather do almost anything than sit in that dental chair.

During the dental visit, I am provided a blanket, clear instructions, asked about my comfort, and an option to listen to music. When I need additional services beyond the standard check-up, I learn about them – and an estimated cost – right at the end of my visit.  THEN, I schedule the added work without a surprise bill after the fact in the mail.

My dentist is not just providing a service and seeing patients; he is building an experience.  Through the experience, I am less anxious from the start and enabled to participate in my care while making informed choices.  The difference in these set-ups perhaps reflects that dentists have been operating in a more value-based care environment longer than doctors.  Except for preventive check-ups, dental procedures traditionally have limited coverage leaving patients responsible for a much larger chunk of the cost, compared to medical visits. Thus, my dentist knows the experience is critical– so is transparency regarding my financial responsibility.

Providers who take a cue from my dentist – effectively engaging patients and respecting their consumer power – have a better chance of successfully navigating value-based care.

How are you coping in the world of value-based care? Post a comment and share your experience.

One thought on “What My Doctor Can Learn from My Dentist

  1. YES! Such a true and vividly accurate example of how the patient experience is important from end-to-end. A provider can be a wonderful clinician but if the rest of your experience isn’t enjoyable, or you’re surprised by your financial responsibilities after the service, the likelihood you’ll come back for continued care definitely diminishes.

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