Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should 

By: Dr. Savannah Craig

In today’s fast-paced society, everyone is looking for one-stop shopping and dental patients are no exception.

One of the reasons I chose to pursue a residency program after dental school, was to have a wider breadth of treatments that I felt comfortable offering my patients. Patients like being able to receive as much treatment as possible in the same office and I am proud to be able to offer a lot of treatment to my patients.

However, specialists exist for a reason and have several years more training in their chosen area of dentistry and it is important to know when a referral is necessary. 

Your Patients Deserve the Best Care Possible

There are a variety of reasons that I choose to refer patients to other providers. Nevertheless, my primary reason for any clinical decision I make, referrals included, is to;

“Provide my patients with the very best care possible.”

Every dentist is unique and every patient provides an added layer to the decision-making process. Every day we find ourselves in situations that are as individualized as the person sitting in front of us.

As a general dentist, I try not to provide any blanket statements of “always” or “never.” However, when I decide a patient should be referred to someone else for their treatment, I stand firm in my decision.

I am always thankful when I trust my gut on those decisions because in the few moments I’ve allowed myself to be persuaded to do an extraction or a root canal I wasn’t 100% thrilled about it ended up being a terrible time.

My standard of care is not compromised in those moments and the patient receives great treatment; however, I feel nervous and anxious throughout the whole interaction. 

Your Team Will Trust & Respect You for Your Decision to Refer

Additionally, as I have become more firm in my treatment and referral decisions, my team has become more confident in me and my decisions. They know that if I say no, I mean no.

If I ask for a referral, the patient is not receiving that care in my chair, and that eliminates ambiguity with the rest of my team. My team members want to become a well-oiled machine and by remaining firm in my decisions it allows them to understand how I treatment plan and care for my patients. This allows us to present a united for the patients. 

Education is Power

While my decision to refer might be easy, it is not always easy to explain the reasoning to my patients. I believe that education is power, so I spend a lot of time pointing to radiographs and intra-oral pictures to show the patient what I am seeing.

I spend a lot of time pointing out things visually to patients and checking in with them to say “do you see here?” I emphasize to the patient that their care is what is most important to me.

I explain that the specialist has more expertise in this area and I give them a sense of what will happen when they go to the specialists office.

Many times patients are nervous about what their experience will be like when you send them out of your office. You have gained trust with this patient and now they must interact with someone new, so I understand their apprehension.

Having my team members on the same page as me has really helped with patient communication. Now that they know I won’t back down in my decision they can help explain to the patient why this decision was made. 

Keep Reading: Not Bringing Work Home With You

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Savanah Craig

Savanah Craig

Savanah Craig obtained her Doctorate of Dental Surgery from The Ohio State University before pursuing a one-year General Practice Residency in Columbia, SC. Dr. Craig is passionate about patient education and utilizes her advanced training to provide excellent care for her patients as a general dentist practicing in Columbus, OH. In her free time, Dr. Craig enjoys reading, exploring new restaurants, and traveling with her husband, Adam.