Many dental practices are still struggling in the post-recession economy. One solution is to reinvent the dental hygiene department. For too many years in too many practices, the sole purpose of the hygiene appointment has been for the hygienist to provide twice-yearly prophylaxis to patients. Unfortunately, in that model, opportunities are missed to create greater patient awareness of beneficial practice services and potential treatment options.
Consider this — the hygienist spends more time on average with patients than any other team member. The typical re-care appointment runs 40 to 60 minutes. Devoting even a small portion of that time to patient education and case presentation can transform the hygiene appointment into an effective engine for increasing doctor production.
The degree of which you follow up with your patients can make or break your effective practice production engine. As a health professional, it is crucial that you make the patient feel like they are more than just a number to you. You have to reach them on a personal level.
If properly trained in interpersonal communications, your hygienist can contribute to patient satisfaction and practice success in four main areas:
- Education and Professional Advice – As already mentioned, providing sound guidance about home oral health care is an essential part of the hygienist’s job. She can add value through this role by offering dental care products she feels comfortable endorsing based on her professional experience and research.
- Commentary on What She’s Doing – Don’t assume that patients know specifically what steps your hygienist takes during an appointment to examine, clean and protect teeth and gums. Even if they were told at one time, it’s not reasonable to expect them to remember. Better for the hygienist to simply mention what she’s doing, and why. This requires no extra time, and can reinforce patients’ commitment to make and keep regular hygiene appointments.
- Reminding Patients about Treatment Not Yet Accepted – If you recommended treatment that patients have not positively rejected or accepted, your hygienist can revisit the subject without pressure. Alerted at the morning meeting, she can check the chart before seeing patients and then simply ask if they have given more thought to the matter. This often opens the door to a meaningful discussion when you come in to check patients.
- Relationship Building – Script training makes it possible to inject personal, friendly elements into the hygienist-patient conversation… getting better acquainted, discovering common interests, etc. As she becomes aware of new personal facts about patients, she can write them down for a quick review before seeing patients the next time. Showing that she remembers details about the patients as individuals will be pleasing to them and beneficial for the practice-patient relationship.
The hygienist can’t build support for optimal oral health care if there isn’t a patient in the treatment chair.Yet, some hygiene coordinator cannot keep your schedules full!
The following steps can help practices motivate hygiene patients to keep their appointments:
- Build greater value for the hygiene appointment.
- Schedule the next hygiene appointment during checkout.
- Implement an effective confirmation system
- Keep track of unscheduled hygiene patients.
Make your hygiene department an asset
The hygiene department is an overlooked asset. Training the hygienist to educate and motivate patients about optimal oral health care is essential for practices that are ready to increase both hygiene production and doctor production. Practice growth begins in the new hygiene department. Use these action steps to turn your hygiene department into a true practice builder based on quality care for every patient.