Roger Levin, DDS, MBA
Most of you reading this column employ at least one part-time or full-time dental hygienist. Hygienists are highly skilled in preventive care, plaque removal, and home-care instruction. They also have extensive additional training that enables them to perform other services, which may or may not be allowable in some states, depending on each state`s laws.
The hygienist cannot "diagnose" treatment. However, hygienists and all other clinical staff members are in an excellent position to "presell" and prepare the treatment plan with the patient. If your hygiene department is not producing at least 25 percent of the practice`s gross production, your practice is not maximizing the potential of this department. You can determine the productivity of your hygiene department by using the formula above.
In order to make the hygiene department profitable, the most important responsibility of the dental hygienist is to sell dentistry. The definition of selling is:
Selling = Education + Motivation
The dental hygienist has between 30 and 60 minutes of one-on-one time with each patient, which allows him or her to establish a good relationship with every patient. This one-on-one relationship-building time also can be used for patient education and motivation. The hygienist can speak with the patient about everything from tooth-whitening to comprehensive dental care. This is a great time to use high-tech equipment to provide better visual presentation. It is essential that the dentist take the time to educate the hygienist about the procedures he or she wants the hygienist to sell to patients.
Keep in mind that the hygienist has a much longer period of time than the dentist to help motivate patients. The average time the dentist spends in a dental-hygiene operatory doing a hygiene check is approximately four and a half minutes. It is very difficult to motivate patients to want esthetic, implant, or comprehensive treatment in only four and a half minutes. That`s why it is so important for the dental hygienist to motivate the patient enough to want more information about a certain type of care prior to the dentist`s actual entrance into the hygiene operatory. Then, patients are much more likely to accept that esthetic, implant, or comprehensive treatment. The dentist should be prepared to reaffirm the hygienist`s preselling ideas.
One statistic that we carefully measure for Levin Group clients is the amount of dentistry referred from the hygiene operatory to the dentist. It is very important to have some knowledge of how well your hygienist is selling. Keep in mind that it is essential that the hygienist receive some level of training on how to provide patient education and motivation. The services you would like patients to be aware of must be communicated. If you accomplish all of these goals, you can frequently triple or quadruple the amount of dentistry referred from the hygienist back to the dentist. This increases production, immediately lowers overhead percentages, and decreases the necessity for an increasing number of new patients to join the practice.
In essence, you are trying to use all of your available resources to keep the practice as productive as possible. Your hygiene department can and should help you reach your productivity and profitability goals.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, president and CEO of The Levin Group and the Levin Advanced Learning Institute, provides worldwide leadership in dental management and marketing for general dentists, specialists, and dental-products companies.