Are You Committing Professional Suicide?

What I suspect most healthcare professionals remember most about the Hippocratic Oath is the part that says, "I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone"…"to abstain from doing harm"…"first do no harm," depending upon which version you read.

However, when taking this idea of "never do harm to anyone" did you ever think this also includes YOU? I strongly believe this promise applies to Dentists and physicians themselves! Yet, I hear of so many Dentists who betray themselves on a daily basis, commit treasonous activities against their own best interests in what amounts to professional suicide.

I frequently encounter stories of Dentists who refuse to spend a couple of hundred bucks a year for something as simple as spore testing. What is the benefit of being penny-wise, but pound-foolish? Why go there? IF they get caught they'll just get a fine and mandatory CE requirement. No big deal, right? Ummm…maybe.

Another situation I encounter involves Dentists who scoff at OSHA Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements because they just assume they're exempt. Guess what  – that may not always hold true. Just because Dentists may not be mandated by a specific "chapter and verse" regulation or standard outlining every possible situation requiring you to wear PPE, this does not mean it is a suitable risk management decision for a Dentist.

Considering the transmission of infectious diseases are most common from patient to Dental Healthcare Worker (I am guessing here), it seems highly unlikely that an infectious disease is going to read your nametag and skip you because you are the big kahuna. Personally, if I were an infectious disease, I would take out as many big kahunas as I could – go big or go home, right?

Okay, so you got all your required vaccinations, but what about cross contamination from a patient to your clothing to another patient. Likely? No. Possible? Yes. A concern? You do the math! IF you run into a provable cross-contamination issue would the harm to your reputation, the legal fees, or the stress be worth the money you "saved"?

Let's take this same risk-reward gamble and apply it in a different situation. You can get in your car and drive all over town running every stop sign and stop light. You can do it over and over again until something happens; your luck eventually runs out and you get pulled over and arrested for reckless driving or you strike another vehicle (whether anyone is injured or not). Suppose during the course of this behavior someone is injured. Suppose those injuries cause the loss of life. In retrospect, would your behavior have been worth the thrill? Ahhh, so you agree it would be ill-advised to subject yourself or other people to this danger. Yet you run a similar risk of the same final consequences when you don't protect yourself and your patients by wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment. How does this make any sense? It doesn’t. It is "self-treason."

As a fellow business owner I am acutely aware of all the "self-treason" opportunities around me…like drinking and driving or being lonely while I travel. I have to be intentional about my choices and my behavior to ensure I don’t screw myself or hurt the people I love through my actions. I avoid dangerous behaviors that could harm my family and me. I choose not to go to gentlemen’s clubs, not to avail myself of opportunities to cheat on my wife, or not to drive after I have been drinking. You must be cognizant of your choices both on and off the job! For me both personally and professionally, the rewards lie in NOT engaging in risky behaviors.

It's just like any investment. I'm invested in my family, I'm invested in my professional reputation, I'm invested in my business success. Regardless of what you're talking about, everything requires a risk-reward assessment. Now, most Dentists I have ever met are concerned with things like profit, their ROI (return-on-investment), growing their portfolios and other matters of bottom-line increase. However, too few carefully consider decreasing the threats to their nest eggs and "big picture" investments. Let's be honest, what are you doing to protect your investment when it comes to negligence, ignorance or treason against yourself?

Doctors, I know you can give me a hundred reasons why spore-testing programs are inefficient. I understand you have strong opinions about various rules and regulations you just plain don't like. I get that your refusal to get with the program is your way of standing up for what you believe is right and objecting to what you believe is wrong. Sometimes you need to do (or not do) something simply to avoid being derailed from your success. In the amount of time you spend defending your support or disdain for something as simple as spore testing, you could have provided a patient treatment that could have paid for 1-3 years of testing.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe there is a time to stand up for what you believe. There is even a right and wrong way to do it. Consider that refusing to do something, however trivial, only screws you in the end – if you get caught. However, only you know what you do or don’t do in your office, but so does your staff. Do you know what happens when good employees become ex-employees? Ever hear the phrase, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"? In the case of ex-employees there is a backlash called Acute Conscience Syndrome (or ACS), a condition causing angry former staffers to disclose your dirty little secrets to people who can make your life really miserable. Is it worth the hassle to avoid something as silly as spore testing or wearing your clinical jacket?

While I have no hard numbers to support my premise, it IS well-known that ACS is likely responsible for the demise of more healthcare providers than any other single cause or condition. Behind every complaint to your State Dental Board there is a written complaint. Odds are those complaints come from other regulatory agencies, patients or, wait for it…employees.

Avoid gambling with you and your family’s financial future, pay attention to detail and avoid habits that can harm you, which can include everything from failing to comply with even the smallest infection control procedures, engaging in sexual relationships outside of your marriage, to illegally prescribing medications (for anyone including staff and family) and taking shortcuts in financial decisions (including professional billing, partnerships and investment opportunities).

Treason – an offense traditionally punishable by death. This "self-treason" can be the death of your practice, the death of your license, the death of your marriage, the death of your portfolio, the death of your freedom, and (heaven forbid) the death of your actual life. None of these is a laughing matter…especially the latter. Consider this, have you ever wondered why Dentists have such a high suicide rate?

The buck stops with you. Avoid committing treason against yourself! Instead demonstrate self-love and do what you have to do to protect your practice, license, marriage, portfolio, freedom and your life (this includes wearing your seatbelt) even if you don’t like what you have to do. Your feelings count, but they don’t matter!