Department assessment

June 1, 2002
The beginning point in any type of transition or transformation always involves understanding where one is starting.

By Beverly Maguire, RDH

The beginning point in any type of transition or transformation always involves understanding where one is starting. As Michael Gerber states in his book, The E-Myth, the small business owner often is so busy "making the donuts" that the evaluation of productivity or changing market needs - driven by research and technology - can be overlooked. This is especially true in dentistry. Practice owners have their hands full. Although the hygiene department does not provide the bulk of productivity in a dental practice, it is however, extremely important from a number of perspectives:

  • It is where patients receive care and monitoring of one of the two common dental diseases - periodontal disease.
  • It provides patients a consistent clinical, emotional, and social tie to the practice.
  • It provides the opportunity for diagnosing restorative dentistry.
  • If properly managed, it creates significant revenues.

"Loss leader" is a phrase that has been linked to hygiene departments for decades. Many dentists often feel that this department merely pays the overhead involved in providing hygiene services to patients. The overhead continues to rise, and the bulk of most of the department's services still remain prophys. You do the math. Eight patients per day provided prophy services does not equal profitability. Sadly, most adult patients require more involved treatment procedures and management than that provided by this scenario. The crux of this issue lies in the profession's inability to consistently gather data, diagnose the disease, and treat patients with proper procedures and codes.

So how do you transform the problem into an opportunity? Study the numbers. In the assessment that I provide to dentists, I find it illuminating that most practices have difficultly accessing the required information from their computer systems. The practice reports are built into the programs but it is obvious that many practices are not accustomed to accessing and evaluating hygiene data on a routine basis. Accessing basic data such as numbers of codes dispensed by the provider, average daily production per hygienist, production per patient, scheduling efficiency, and monitoring expenses as a percentage of production should be push-button simple. Why the struggle to access basic information for monthly tracking, evaluation, and management?

Due to high costs of software training, many staff members are never provided with adequate training for fully utilizing their computer systems. Thousands of dollars are left on the table each year through ignorance and complacency.

A new system in the marketplace, which dynamically addresses these issues, is the Ciraden Web-based practice management system. A complement of affiliated business reports is currently available and is growing all the time. Business information is accessible from any Web-connected PC in the office or at home, when the dentist-owner has time available to review and evaluate information. Practice information is stored in a secure database off-site, backed up automatically, and can be sent weekly on a CD to the practice if desired. Purchased on a subscription basis, its cost is equivalent to paying for support-only for most other systems. I am impressed with the ease of accessing valuable information needed to manage the department; there's information that other systems do not even offer, such as scheduling efficiency, case acceptance ratios, prophy to perio codes ratios, and hygiene expenses as a percentage of production.

When it comes to hygiene department management, it's important to monitor the numbers and to understand the capabilities of your computer system. Technol-ogy should be an aid, not a deterrent to the process. The dentist-owner must require that the data be reported monthly and then evaluate the status and progress of the hygiene department.

Beverly Maguire, RDH, is a practicing dental hygienist. She is president and founder of Perio Advocates, a hygiene consulting company based in Littleton, Colo. She can be reached at (303) 730-8529 or by email at [email protected].

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