201611-Hopkins-Siany-Dr-Oct 16

Better communication between doctors and dentists would benefit everyone, patients most of all.

I was told a somewhat disturbing story recently by a fellow dentist regarding a frustrating encounter he had had with a local GP. The dentist was treating a patient who required a tooth extraction and was taking one of the newer anticoagulant medications.

The current Dental Guidelines are quite specific regarding the required protocols when treating patients who are taking Warfarin, but the general recommendation for newer medications is to consult with the patient’s doctor.

So the dentist wrote to the patient’s GP and again, a week or so later, when the initial contact was ignored. He followed this up with a phone call, was assured by the receptionist that the GP had received the email and would reply the same afternoon.

The day of the extraction duly arrived and the GP still hadn’t responded. So, quite literally, the dentist decided to take the matter into his own hands.201611-Dentist-procedure

He walked into the surgery and handed the letter to the doctor.

I’m not suggesting that this story reflects the usual practice of all GPs. In fact, I’ve found most to be very helpful and prompt to respond to my queries. And that’s coming from someone who works part-time in the public health system with patients who have complex medical histories requiring both chemotherapy and/or blood work.

On a broader scale, the above anecdote highlights the importance of inter-disciplinary communication between health professionals. When I studied at UWA, the medical, dentistry and podiatry students all commenced their studies together. While some dental students found diabetic ulcers disturbing and future podiatrists couldn’t handle looking at photos of periodontal disease, it was patently obvious that there are more similarities than differences between our professions.

What is abundantly clear is that the patient’s best interests should always be our prime concern.

Perhaps it was less than desirable when these undergraduate degrees began to diverge down separate pathways. By the time I graduated I didn’t know any of the students graduating in other health areas. I think it’s important that we, as a younger generation of health professionals, begin our careers with a commitment to form open and productive relationships.

And compared with our older colleagues it’s probably much easier for us because email and related social media make contact simpler and almost instantaneous. It’s just so easy to keep lines of communication open.

We’re all required to complete ongoing education so wouldn’t it be beneficial to have a multi-disciplinary ‘talk-fest’ every so often?

Common, recurring questions and ongoing issues could be aired in a collegial manner. And, who knows, there may be the added bonus of forming a professional network or two?

The medical sector is constantly changing, new medications are being introduced and antibiotic resistance remains an issue. Pooling our knowledge and engaging in open communication can only benefit our patients.

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