Sunday, March 18, 2018

Drilling down on patient loyalty

For more than 30 years, A.L. and her family visited the same dentist. Even after they moved a half-an-hour's drive away from the dentist, they continued to visit him for regular checkups and any dental work they needed over the years.

Last year, the family's dentist announced his retirement. He was selling his practice to another dentist whose office was in the same office park. The plan was for the old dentist to continue practicing for three months at the new owner's location as the patients who wanted to transition to the new dentist did so. After those three months passed, A.L. continued to book visits with the new dentist.

While A.L. loved her old dentist (words not often enough heard), she also was quite fond of the work his long-term dental hygienist did for routine checkups, cleanings, and X-rays. Even though the dentist was retiring, the plan was for his hygienist to keep working for the new owner of the dental practice. Because A.L. and her family liked working with the hygienist, they decided to keep making the twice-a-year schlep to get their teeth checked on and cleaned.

On the few instances A.L. interacted with the new dentist, she wasn't all that fond of his chair-side manner. "He was thorough," writes A.L., "but seemed a bit condescending and a bit abrupt with his hygienist."

Nevertheless, A.L. persisted in remaining a patient of the new dentist. If nothing else, she felt she was being loyal to her hygienist.

About a week ago, A.L. learned that her long-term hygienist had left the dental practice. Apparently, it just became too difficult for her to continue to deal with the new dentist's manner.

A.L. doesn't know for certain what happened to cause the hygienist to leave the practice. But now that she's gone, she feels as if there's no reason not to find a dentist closer to home.

"Would it be wrong to leave the new guy and give him the impression I didn't like him when I really haven't established any kind of relationship with him?" she asks.

A.L. has every right to find a new dentist for whatever reason she wants to find one. That she continued driving a half-hour to the new dentist showed a great sense of loyalty. But there are a few things in her question that suggest she knows the answer to her own question.

It doesn't really matter whether the dentist was condescending or abrupt or if A.L. misread his manner. (OK, it certainly does matter to those who have to work with him.) That fact that A.L. has been seeing him for more than a year now and hasn't established any kind of relationship with the new dentist is reason enough to decide it might be time to find someone else.

She might find it will take time to establish as strong a relationship she had with her old dentist even if she does leave the new guy and find someone else. But at least she can try to do so much closer to home. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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