Standard of treatment vs Standard of care

As you go about your daily business, helping your patients, repairing their teeth and getting them out of pain, what are you focused on? Are you bogged down in the minutiae of treatment or are you seeing the bigger picture? To put it another way, are you focused on the standard of treatment that you provide or the standard of care?

I’m not sure if someone has defined these terms before. When you think about it, it seems so obvious that I cannot be the first person to have had the idea. I would define the two phrases as follows.

Standard of treatment: The proficiency with which you carry out technical tasks such as fillings, extractions, etc, etc.

Standard of care: The quality of the overall patient experience.

Standard of care encompasses everything the patient may experience before, during and after any appointments with the dentist. This means that standard of care includes the standard of technical treatment and a whole lot more besides. It includes how you speak to the patient, how well you listen to their concerns and how you reassure them during visits.

The point of highlighting this is that there is much more to providing an excellent standard of care to your patients than just your clinical skills.

Of course, clinical skills are vitally important. If your filling falls out two weeks after you placed it, the patient’s experience is not exactly optimal. But if it’s clear to your patients that you have their best interests at heart, your patients will still appreciate your care. They will forgive the odd hiccup and give you another chance.

In contrast, if you do a beautiful job of placing a large composite repair but haven’t built rapport with the patient, you are on thin ice when (through no fault of yours) the pulp becomes inflamed and requires a root canal treatment.

I appreciate that none of this will come as a surprise to you. And I appreciate that most of us will naturally build rapport with our patients. However, I do believe that many of us lose sight of the bigger picture of what it means to provide the highest standard of care.

When the going gets tough…

What happens when we are under pressure? If we’re stressed or anxious to meet targets, we cope by working harder. Our heads go down. Nose to the grind stone (or nose to the composite polishing bur in our case). We jump on the treadmill and start to churn out the work.

When we’re in a rush, the first thing we cut out is the time we spend talking to our patients. We fix the teeth but forget who’s attached to them. We prioritise treatment above care. This is a huge mistake.

There is no better use of your working day than time spent talking to your patients. This is always productive, allowing you to build rapport, demonstrate your value and enhance the care you provide. Consequently, patients trust you more and take your advice, giving you the opportunity to deliver high value and complex treatments rather than just the cheapest options. This approach makes it easier to meet targets because you’re working smarter rather than just flogging yourself to get your UDAs done.

To those of you who will say that you don’t have time for these discussions, I strongly disagree. When you see a patient with a fractured cusp, give yourself the time to explain why the tooth would benefit from an indirect restoration rather than just another patch up. By slowing down, talking to your patients and discussing options, you will provide higher value work and actually get more done. You make your life easier and your patients experience a much higher standard of care. Time spent communicating with patients is a win-win situation for everyone.

Personal reflection

Returning to standard of care, how can we improve what we do? Well, there are tonnes of things. There are infinite, tiny details that we can consider in every aspect of our daily practise to enhance the service that we offer to our patients.

Consider how you listen to your patients to demonstrate that their concerns are important to you. Consider how you explain and reassure during treatment to relieve your patient’s anxiety. Consider how you follow up treatment to confirm that your work is providing the desired outcome and your patients are comfortable. There is so much beyond our clinical skills that contributes to the standard of care that we provide and the overall patient experience.

If you’re smashing this already, that’s great. However, if you think that you may have lost sight of the bigger picture that is your ‘standard of care’, it might be time for a bit of honest reflection. Contemplate how you can better serve your patients without picking up your air turbine or flat plastic.

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