The dental hygienist was inches from my face, talking, and I felt her heavy breathing. I asked, “Are you vaccinated?”
She told it wasn’t my right to ask, but that she had received a vaccination. That HIPPA protected her. Her tone was sharp, angry, as if I’d committed a sin.
She then attacked my mouth with her scraper; her annoyance transmitted through her dental tool, making me fear for my teeth.
Several weeks before, I’d asked another medical provider the same question. She had chosen not to get vaccinated. After she explained the precautions she used, I felt satisfied me and have gone back to see her once more.
The hygienist, however, made me wrong for asking a question I felt was my right as patient to ask, given that I wasn’t masked inches from her face. I made a calendar note to ask for a different hygienist next time.
These situations came to mind as my clients include several small medical clinics whose practice administrators have asked how they can protect their staff’s privacy rights and satisfy patients who want answers. I’ve been told several staff members tell patients, “I don’t need to answer that.”
When the practice administrators ask, I answer “the tone in which the staff member asks matters.” It may be the staff member’s right not to answer, but it’s not their right to shame or chastise the patient who asks. That patient has the right to protect his or her health.
Those who ask aren’t the enemy. COVID-19 and the Delta variant are.
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