Of Dental X-Rays and Sales Pitches

Of Dental X-Rays and Sales Pitches (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

I went to the dental office at Sears yesterday, where I noticed that the woman X-raying my teeth didn’t entirely disappear behind the lead wall when she pushed the button. Three times I watched, and I could see her elbow and part of her hand.

Before she did it a fourth time, I called it to her attention. She sounded very surprised, and thanked me for pointing it out, saying she hopes she doesn’t already have cancer in her elbow.

I explained that as a new media specialist, I am interested in usability and design. She showed me that the button that fires the X-rays is located very near the edge of the wall, where the operator’s right elbow and the outer edge of her hand could easily stick around the edge.

She sort of comically twisted her body to demonstrate how she would have to stand if she were to continue to push the button with her right hand but not expose the rightmost part of her body (the button really was that close to the edge). If she had pushed the button with her left hand, crossing her arm over her body, she would be less likely to expose any stray limbs.

Regardless of which hand the operator uses, positioning the button so that it is possible to trigger it from an unsafe position — by standing on the patient’s side of the wall and reaching around — is simply bad design.

I was feeling pretty good about myself for helping someone avoid needless risk. But later on, after the hygienist had finished cleaning my teeth, she gave me a slick brochure advertising a new oral cancer screening procedure, along with a legalistic form for me to sign, where I could either order the $60 procedure right there, or sign a different line on the form to the effect that I had been offered the procedure and declined it. Obviously the idea was to make me worry that my mouth was about to burst out in cancerous tumors, and make me worry that I would feel guilty forever and rue the day that I didn’t jump at the chance to give Sears my $60.

I handed the form back unsigned, saying that I would think about it, but that I felt uncomfortable being given a sales pitch while I was still lying on my back with the little paper napkin still chained around my neck.

She made another half-hearted attempt, saying something about how Sears wanted to “cover their butt” in case I ended up getting oral cancer, but I made it clear I wasn’t interested in signing either way.

Only then did she push the button that brought my chair up to the normal angle.

It annoyed me a bit, that obviously the marketers at Sears Dental had put a lot of thought into how best to manipulate the environment so that I would be most vulnerable to a sales pitch, but that the X-ray button seems to have been placed so carelessly.