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The Face Behind the Mask

January 18, 2015

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophy — Tags: , — Barry @ 10:00 AM


There I was in the belly of the beast.  Well, not exactly, but that’s how I felt when they wheeled me into the cardiac catheterization lab at my local hospital.  Before you start worrying, I’m okay.  A little blip on my stress test culminated in this recent episode.

Before I get too far along, let me just throw out this little piece of advice:  if you are over the age of sixty, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a stress test.  I’m okay, but this may be the best preventive medicine I know of…and as a dentist, I am all about prevention and prediction.

Back to the lab…the first person I meet is Steve.  He has an identification badge on his smock.  He makes small talk and I accommodate.

“Hi, I’m Steve, what’s your name?”

“Barry,” I tell him.

“Nice to meet you, what do you do?”

“I’m a dentist,” I say.

“Oh really…I could use a good dentist, where is your office?”

Okay—at this point I’m thinking I’ve heard this conversation before…too many times.

So I tell him where my office is located and he tells me it’s too far…he goes to a guy in another town.  Just for the record that town is further away than my office…but this is small talk remember, and to keep it up I ask him what that dentist’s name is.

He struggles to find the name.  “Hmm, I forgot, but he’s a really nice guy.”

At this point I’m wondering if he even has a dentist or am I just involved in some conversational dream, but then I think about my own practice and the state of health care in America today.

Are we all involved in some conversational dream…or can we not establish relationships anymore?

I think about the TV show Cheers, the bar where everyone knows your name.  Remember Sam Malone, Rebecca, Diane, Carla, Norm and Cliff, Dr. Frasier Crane and of course, Woody.

I wonder if Steve remembers the name of the guy at Starbucks who serves him his coffee everyday.  Times certainly have changed.

I still remember Dr. Weltman and Dr. Kaplan my doctor and dentist when I was growing up in the Bronx.  One thing I do remember is how my parents trusted them, they were “go to guys” for everything.

Today healthcare has become a commodity.  Doctors look at computer screens rather than into the eyes of patients.  Patients shop online for Groupons and deals for elective healthcare.

Now if you’re a dentist reading this, I am sure you built your practice on some degree of friendliness, after all dentistry is an intimate, personal service.  I don’t believe healthcare workers created this level of commoditization…it’s just the times we live in and I’m sure how we got here is quite complex.  I also believe that those old “mom and pop” enterprises of years ago were on to something.

They really knew their customers.  Intimately.  Those relationships were the basis of the many rewards they received from their practices.  From the patient’s perspective…everyone ends up on the metaphorical table eventually.  It would be nice if you knew the name of the person on the other side of the mask.





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