I went to the dentist for a checkup today for the first time in over 2 years. First of all, I am not one of those 'I hate/scare of dentist' type person. All those drilling and cleaning implements don't scare me at all. What I don't welcome is the pushy dentists who always want to me to have some operation or other, despite how unnecessary it may be. For example, the last few dentists I visited always commented on the slightly impacted wisdom teeth I had, and how I should have them taken out "just in case". The first time I was told, my thought was "Why?" They are not causing me any problem now. Why can't I have them out if and when they become a problem? Funnier still, the last dentist suggested that I had all of my wisdom teeth taken out, and at his office! Ah, no thanks!
Anyhow, I came to expect this line of upsale-ing whenever I visit a dentist. Imagine my surprise when I visited a new dentist today and he did not even mention the wisdom teeth, let alone trying to sale me some operations. But that was not what really impress me today. The singular event that increases my trust in this dental office was when I was with the oral hygienist. She was just about to check out the health of my gums and asked a nurse to jot down the result. Nothing new there and the conversation went something like this:
Nurse: It's for number 3?
Hygienist reached for some tools and shifted position.
Hygienist: Are we on number 5?
Nurse: Yes, number 5
And so on.
If you are familiar with flight operations, you will notice the similarity where the captain will call out an item on the checklist and the first officer will respond, verbally, back to ensure the right action is performed.
What advantage does this system bring?
First, there is no implicit assumption on what action each person is performing. There is periodic checkpoint to ensure both the hygienist and the nurse are recording the data for the correct tooth. Second, and more important in my view, is the low Power Distance Index (PDI) between the hygienist and the nurse. The data recording is not a dictation where the hygienist called out the result without pause and the poor nurse struggles to keep up.
I first came across Power Distance Index (Wikipedia
) in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers
, where he described high PDI being a factor in a string of Korean airline crashes. He went on to suggest that low PDI tends to lower the incidence rate because the subordinate is more willing to challenge the superior and thus prevents errors to occur or develop into disaster.
Coming back to my dental hygienist experience, my confidence in this dental office increase dramatically when I observed the low PDI between the hygienist and nurse, because I could see they care about patient welfare. Whether they knowingly implement this system to lower the PDI or just happen upon it, I don't particularly care. I only care that they care about me.
And the result is that the hygienist achieved something her peers had not managed in over a decade. Namely, gain my trust to the point where she convinced me to floss!
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