Ronald L. Cooper, DMD
I read with interest Dr. Roger Levin`s article in the April issue on the new-patient experience (Practice Success, page 30). He presents three approaches of how new patients should enter a practice, but strongly suggests that his approach is "the only one that really works for comprehensive treatment planning." Specifically, he states that new patients should be examined by the dentist who has "relationship time" and then rescheduled for a treatment presentation appointment.
His presentation implies that the dentist, as the apparent focus of the practice, is the only person who can properly and effectively build a relationship with the patient at that first appointment. In my opinion, he overlooks the possibility that a motivated, well-trained, sensitive, and intelligent hygienist can be the integral part of the patient`s positive, first-visit experience.
For 25 years, my hygienists have been first to examine our new patients. Our hygienists do the initial interview (outside of the treatment room), head, neck, and soft-tissue examination, periodontal probing, photographs, and radiographs. Only when they have established a rapport, determined the patient`s wants and needs, and collected the appropriate information about the patient does a doctor come into the room. The hygienist sits the patient upright, introduces the doctor, and summarizes her findings. The doctor talks to the patient for a minute, reclines the patient, does a cursory dental examination (being certain to reinforce the findings of the hygienist), sits the patient upright, summarizes the findings, answers any general questions, and, when appropriate, schedules a treatment presentation appointment to be conducted after the radiographs have been examined.
The hygienist, as a representative of the practice, is the person who begins to build the initial relationship with the patient. The doctor acts to reinforce that relationship. This is consistent with the philosophy of our practice. Our assistants build relationships as well. We have had most of our hygienists and assistants in the office for 15 years and some for nearly 25 years. Frankly, they are wonderful relationship-builders and barely a day goes by when I don`t have a patient take me aside and mention that our assistants, hygienists, and deskpeople are incredible people. I maintain that any dentist who surrounds himself or herself with bright, intelligent, and focused people will have a similar experience.
For large treatment cases, one of the doctors explains treatment options, but even then we sometimes have one of our properly trained assistants seat the patient and begin the presentation before we even enter the room. Often, the assistant can determine the patient`s concerns, which allows the doctor to have a better feel for the direction of the conversation as he enters the consultation room. The more information we have, the better we can present to the patient.
I was stimulated by Dr. Levin`s article, but his contention that there is only one way to do a new patient visit flies in the face of reality. His summary that doctors who choose a method other than his "are experiencing mediocre production from new patients" may be based on his own personal experience. However, his personal experience does not translate into a general theorum where he can justly state that others cannot have equal or better results with a different approach and with different people.
After all, "If it`s already been done successfully, it is probably possible."