Behind the PPE- Dr. Gar N. Chan.
THE PERSON BEHIND THE PPE: STAFF USES SMILING PHOTOS TO BREAK DOWN BARRIERS
The staff at Dr. Gar Chan’s Family Dental Practice is building connections with their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic in a simple but powerful way. Gilroy Family Dentist, Dr. Gar N. Chan has a smiling photo with him during his appointments at Gilroy Medical Park. Chan places the photo on the counter in each patient room for the duration of their visit. “A smile is universal”, he said.
This great idea is to help our patients feel more comfortable while having treatment performed in our dental office. It was as good a time as any to take updated photos of each of our team members with and without PPE. Each team member has self recorded photos and video introductions to make our blog and website bios come to life. We hope these selfies with and without PPE photos will lend a personal touch, making them especially relevant during this new normal of “astronauts in the operatory” of patient care.
The N95 mask, gloves, plastic face shield and other personal protect equipment (PPE) that each team staff member dons each time he or she comes into direct contact with a patient are vital for his or her protection against COVID-19 – but they don’t make communication very easy.
That is why each team member, who works at Dr. Gar N. Chan’s general family dentistry practice, printed out a smiling photo of him or herself that is displayed in patients’ treatment rooms during patient appointments. The picture is a simple but powerful connection builder: It gives patients under each team member’s care a chance to see the person behind the PPE.
“Using the photo when I first introduce myself to patients creates an opening for them to get to know me, their chairside provider,” Dr. Chan said. “Patients smile when they see the photo, and comment about how nice it is to put a face to the voice and know who is talking to them. They are reassured when I return since we have already made this connection.”
Pandemic precautions have made masking necessary, but Chan and his staff are aware of the isolating effect it can have on the people under their care. In a patient’s eyes, Chan said, it can feel at times like everyone is masked and equally unfamiliar. Visitor restrictions – another safety measure implemented to prevent COVID-19 spread – have also limited the number of family members and friends a patient, especially children, can accompany them.
“I think it must feel very frightening and sometimes invasive when a patient has a stranger performing a procedure, treatment, examination, or administering medications, and the patient cannot even see the provider’s face behind all the PPE,” Chan said. “We are the primary caregivers in the room with them for the duration of their appointment. It is important to establish a trusting and positive Dr./staff/patient relationship.”
To break down the sense of isolation, many care providers are finding innovative ways to communicate with patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, including friendly photos like the one Chan and his staff brings with them.
No matter these barriers to communication, a smile is universal, Dr. Chan notes.
“We are in an in unprecedented time where we have to look outside the box and find alternatives to improve the patient experience. The isolation patients feel is tremendous and for many, they are not able to express their emotions,” Chan said. “I want my patients to feel important, to feel heard, and to feel included in the plan of care.”
In his current role as a a licensed general family dentist, over the years Dr. Chan has seen thousands of patients and their family and friends. He has seen two month olds and 101 year olds. Dr. Chan is also a former CPR instructor and was a member of numerous study clubs. He has always been an avid runner, hiker and camping enthusiast. A lifelong priority has always included regular exercise, stretching and nutritional balance. Dr. Chan’s focus has been living a holistic lifestyle to be able to enjoy the great beauty of the outdoors. Throughout his lifetime he has climbed Mt Whitney twice, hiked to Machu Picchu, Peru, participated in marathons, and visited China. Because of his own lifestyle Dr. Chan has focused on providing holistic dental care to vulnerable children and adults in South County. The depth and breadth of his own past experience has helped him look at an individual patient’s needs through a different lens – one that is focused on the larger picture of that person’s dental treatment trajectory.
“It’s easy for staff to forget that we do this work every day,” Chan said. “But for our patients, dentistry is a major stressor. I think one of the most important things you can do is to meet patients where they are at in their life’s journey. We all come from different backgrounds and you just never know what challenges an individual has been through in their life that brought them to you.”