Miss Manner's Rules for Proper Etiquette In and Out of the Operatory

Written by Heather Siler

Should you be concerned with etiquette in the operatory? Although it may seem to be a strange question, some clinicians aren’t even aware they’re violating the protocol of OSHA and HIPPA. Not all of the infractions listed below are HIPPA and OSHA requirements; they’re just plain rude. Here is a list of things to avoid in and out of the operatory:

  • Leave your cell phone OUT of the operatory. A patient in the chair DOES NOT want to witness your conversation or text message. Furthermore, the patient’s appointment time isn’t an opportunity to catch up on emails or social media. Smartphones have enabled us to have the world at our fingertips, and it’s tempting to engage with the phone instead of the patient since there can be plenty of downtime during the appointment. Try engaging with the patient instead and educate them, make them comfortable, or just let them vent.
  • Never blow your nose or cough in the presence of a patient. Excuse yourself and go to an area where you’ll have privacy. Even if the patient can’t see you, it’s not something anyone wants to hear, especially in a medical setting.
  • Never have a heated discussion with a team member in front of a patient. Leave any cross words or even a calm discussion for later when it can be addressed out of the operatory and in privacy.
  • Avoid conversations about religion or politics. Even if the conversation is agreeable, a patient in the next room may hear and find you being improper and unprofessional.
  • Avoid conversations about patients with team members unless in a closed room away from any observers. HIPPA violations are very real and can end in fines and jail time. Additionally, ignorance of HIPPA laws can’t be used as an excuse.
  • Pay special attention to the patient's personal information. When you have a chart in your possession, this information must be kept confidential. If anyone other than a team member gets access to another patient’s personal information, very serious consequences can ensue. HIPPA personnel will become involved and again, impose fines and in some cases, prison. These fines can be imposed per occurrence which means that you’re not facing one fine, but separate fines for each patient whose information is compromised. The front desk is a prime example of where opportunists might gather patient information. The reception area and front desk are very busy places with many things happening at once. Also, the communication in the front office includes credit card numbers, names, addresses, social security numbers, and insurance information.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the operatory or in front of a patient. Keeping food and drinks in the treatment room can cause them to become contaminated. With the use of high-speed and low-speed handpieces, particles enter the air and land everywhere. Even at the front desk where contamination may not occur, eating in the presence of the patient is rude.
  • Watch what you say outside of the office. It’s no surprise that people vent about the workplace. However, you never know who’s sitting in the next booth. Mixing in alcohol can also be a huge problem if it encourages you to talk louder and be more open. HIPPA exists outside of the dental office, and you absolutely can violate HIPPA guidelines and have to face the consequences.

Fun can still be had while treating patients, however, be sure to stay within reason of the rules and guidelines. The workplace will be safer and more pleasant for the team and the patients.