“I would like to cancel my appointment,“ the dreaded phone call at every dental practice. It’s made even worse if followed by the next phrase, “it’s just a cleaning.”
Although frustrating to dental professionals, this phrase should cause us to pause and think about this common patient perception. We might get defensive; it’s so much more than that. Wouldn’t you agree?
Is it though? As dental professionals, are we providing optimal care for our hygiene patients? Are their prophylaxis, routine exam, and x-rays critical in the big picture of their health? And, if so how can we communicate this more effectively?
We know that dental hygienists are on the front line in preventing oral diseases. However, it is all too common for practices to find themselves in a routine. Preventative services aren’t offered consistently, or patient acceptance of these valuable services may be reduced due to lack of insurance coverage, or financial constraints. Consistency is often a challenge, with some providers offering preventative services, where others in the same practice do not.
Today’s dental patient is under a constant onslaught of risk factors. It seems there is sugar in everything. The average adult in the US consumes a staggering 57 pounds of sugar a year. Acidic beverages are also part of our daily lives. Carbonated soft drinks are the most-consumed beverages in our country with an average of 44.7 gallons consumed per person, per year. There are also many brands of bottled water below the threshold for enamel demineralization. Tooth Decay in children is the number one childhood disease, and many adults are on medications that are detrimental to their oral health. The drug-induced-dry-mouth patient requires a different level of care to prevent a crisis.
And still, many patients rank the preventive maintenance examination and cleanings we provide low on the priority list. How can we inspire a higher level of engagement and understanding on this issue?
I have found the answer to this problem is to establish systems in the hygiene department. Implementing processes that will ensure all patients are receiving the opportunity to choose beneficial preventative services have proven invaluable in countless practices we have worked with over the years. It is said that out of 10,000 organizations, 2,000 will set goals on things they want to improve. 400 outline a plan, yet only four companies will create systems to help them achieve those goals. Creating a systematic process ensures that your standard of care is being provided in your practice, and isn’t dependent on the individual providing that care.
With many changes in our industry, many practices going to a Multi-doctor, Multi-hygienist even a Multi-location model, and excellent systems are proving to be a critical component to practice success.
Risk Assessment is an excellent example of a needed service that benefits the patient, the provider, and the practice. There should be a system in place to evaluate risk factors and discuss findings with every patient. At every hygiene visit, the hygienist performs a brief risk assessment survey and assigns every patient a risk status according to the ADA’s criteria. There are CDT codes that are also assigned and documented, and findings are discussed with every patient. We encourage hygiene providers to continue the conversation with patients throughout the hygiene appointment. Risk factors are considered; consequences and possible preventative services are also a part of the discussion. We often see a tremendous impact on patient acceptance once a system for Risk Assessment is implemented.
Systems help inspire confidence! Team members thrive when they understand not only what we want them to do, but also how to actually do it. Patients also have confidence in us when they know why we are recommending services and how they benefit from our care. Systems provide a consistent experience for patients and help them become more engaged with their dental health. Their preventive visits are so much more than “just a cleaning,” they are a vital component in ensuring their long-term systemic health.
Wendy Briggs is a registered Dental Hygienist with more than 25 years of experience. For more than 16 years Wendy has helped thousands of dentists take control of their practice and uncover millions of dollars of unseen/untapped revenue by serving their patients at a higher level. Production is never the goal – it ’s the result of taking great care of our patients.
In addition to her managerial expertise, Wendy has one of the most highly regarded Hygiene and Periodontal programs in the industry. Dental Service Organizations and privately owned practices soar when they adopt her protocol.