There was one dentist on my insurance plan accepting new patients, and I was lucky to have found her. All I needed was a phone number. A phone number, possibly even the correct one, came up in a handy info box on the search page itself.
Why did I have to click through to the dentist’s actual website?
There was a phone number near the top of the dentist’s homepage, matching that which had shown up on the search page. Clearly the right number, then, which is all the actual information I needed. Web search complete, right?
Why did I have to keep scrolling down the dentist’s homepage, looking at everything but what I’d come for?
In scrolling, I came to a subsection entitled “Testimonials.” I could have stopped as soon as I saw the heading: testimonials on a dentist’s own site would invariably be skewed toward the positive and thus, practically-speaking, devoid of all useful information. Besides, it is a sign of weakness to concern oneself with what others think.
Why did I care what others thought?
There were two testimonials, from a man and a woman, each consisting of a generic-sounding positive quote, a photo of a trustworthy face, and a name.
Why did I recognize the woman?
She was a writer. I had taken a writing class with her in college. This was the author photo from her book jacket.
Why didn’t I recognize the name associated with her face on the website?
This, unfortunately, was easy: It wasn’t her name.
Why would a woman who published books un-pseudonymously be pseudonymously penning testimonials for a dentist 200 miles away from where she lived and worked?
The testimonial itself was not a stellar piece of writing. In fact, it could have been written by a robot. As it hardly comported with her other work, if I were her and I had written it, I guessed I wouldn’t be in a hurry to claim it either.
In truth, something was seeming quite fishy.
And really, I could have left it there.
Why didn’t I leave it there?
Preferring to think the best of people, in an effort to salvage the trustworthiness of the sole dental provider available to me, I set off in search of additional information concerning her background, so that I might understand what about her credentials would possess my college writing instructor to drive 400 miles out of her way for a check-up.
What I found was that, far from being a star of dental medicine attracting an elite clientele of literary and non-literary luminaries from up and down the Western seaboard, my dentist was fresh out of dental school, having only just completed hours at an East Coast community clinic, moved across the country, and hung out a shingle on a practice of her own.
For an industrious young professional seeking to establish herself in a new locale, testimonials are essential. Some placeholder testimonials would have to do until she’d had a chance to collect real ones. Certainly anyone could understand that, right?
Why couldn’t I understand that?
Certainly, by this point, I knew enough. I could have left it there.
Why couldn’t I leave it there?
Suddenly, I remembered the man. The other testimonial. His was a bespectacled and eminently trustworthy face. He, too, was purported to be a great fan of this dentist. Upon double-checking, I found that I did not recognize him, which came as something of a momentary relief. A dead end, you might think.
How did I know that right-clicking an image would give me the option of doing a reverse image search? I don’t remember ever learning this, but somehow I knew it.
I found that very image of the man associated to the profile of a differently-named man, a public figure known as a “futurist” in the United Kingdom. Hard to imagine some technocrat would have crossed the globe under an assumed identity to see an upstart dentist in an unhip part of California within the past couple of months, then.
Now, the final question: Why had I done all this research?
I was better-informed and ever-more-skeptical, but still, as far as I knew, I only had the option of seeing this one dentist if I wanted it to be covered by the insurance. And now I knew too much. Now it would be so awkward.
When seeing a new dentist, I recommend showing up at least 15 minutes early to fill out all necessary paperwork. I recommend being polite to the desk person and remaining patient even if you haven’t been called yet when it’s a few minutes past your appointment time and the entire office staff is in the back chatting about something.
And should you possess inside information on an elaborate testimonial fraud scheme being perpetrated on the website of the dentist you are about to entrust your teeth to, I recommend not mentioning it to the desk person as you sign in.
- Yes, there’s the principle of the thing: People should not go around appropriating the likenesses of others, making stuff up, or aggrandizing themselves.
- Yes, the desk person will seem friendly and open to conversation of any sort.
- Yes, the desk person might be the person who is technically in charge of updating the website, should an update to the website be deemed necessary.
- Certainly, you will think there is a tactful way of broaching the subject so that, far from being offended by the insinuation, your new dental professionals will be thankful to you for showing them an opportunity to improve.
But it is not worth the risk of being misunderstood. Not on the first visit. These people don’t know you, and you don’t know them. Just swallow your concerns and be an uncomplicated, straightforward new patient, I say, not an indignant, over-researched madman preaching business ethics from the waiting area in the minutes before his first appointment begins.