Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA
Dentistry only has so many areas into which it can expand to increase practice revenues. We have taken stabs at everything, including selling vitamins, nutritional/diet programs, toothpaste/floss/toothbrush kits and, now, we are examining the possibility of creating breath centers. Any of these have potential for a practice, but we often forget to look at what we have readily available now. In my seminars, I often have told audiences that the definition of imagination is not the ability to see what is not there, but rather the ability to see what is there.
Your hygiene department is there. However, it usually is not maximized. Since this is a column on productivity, we should address the issue about hygiene production.
Many practices have very low hygiene profitability. The hygienist can become almost a loss leader for the practice without any true return on the investment. As the expense of the hygienist and running a dental practice increases, it is more important than ever to enhance revenues to gain a return on the investment and feed the rest of the dental practice.
What Do You Do?
The first step in increasing hygiene productivity is to understand that, today, approximately 40 percent of the hygienist`s time should be devoted to procedures beyond basic prophys. Sealants and bleaching are examples. We need to upgrade the services provided by our hygienists in order to allow them to be more productive.
Second, hygienists need to become more adept at helping patients understand available services in the practice and those which those patients may want. Since we are working with our clients to increase the percentage of elective services in the practice to approximately 40 percent, the hygienist is a key factor in patient motivation and education. I use a model that 50 percent of the dentist`s production should come from hygiene operatories. In order for 50 percent of the dentist`s production to come from hygiene operatories, and 40 percent of dentist production overall to be elective in nature, the hygienist must aid that process.
Third, you may want to bring in a hygiene assistant. This individual needs far less training than a dentist-assistant and will increase hygiene productivity by approximately 30 percent. You need to carefully structure the work flow and the responsibility of the assistant. Other benefits are that the hygiene assistant can enhance her training and eventually become a dentist`s assistant or have the ability to help the dentist at certain times.
Fourth, you probably will want to upgrade and take advantage of advanced technology. Computerized probing is becoming a more common occurrence and eventually will become a more normal part of dental practices. Many of these probes have undergone extensive evolution to reach the state where they now are practical for the practice. One example is the Florida Probe, which has very fine accuracy, excellent handling characteristics and makes the process faster and easier. These technologies allow a hygienist to work faster, more efficiently, and appear to provide a higher quality of care to patients. It is my personal belief that it is advanced technology that is going to allow dentistry to still be highly productive, despite some of the changes which are occurring. Practices must be investing in technology today that will allow them to work faster, better, add new services, etc.
Fifth, dentists should stop trying to present high-level treatment plans to hygiene patients in the hygiene room in about two minutes. It does not work. Most of these comprehensive cases cannot be properly presented in one fully-dedicated consultation appointment. Imagine the effect of trying to present treatment recommendations in a couple of minutes in the hygiene room!
Dental practices are full of patients who have mouths that are ready to be restored again. Instead of noticing this, we blow into the hygiene room with one goal: Get out! This has to be changed. Instead, focus on identifying patients who may need a comprehensive re-examination and bring them back for a dedicated consultation and records appointment. Set a goal to identify one or two patients per day and you will increase your practice productivity by 30 percent. Does it work? We are seeing it with clients all over the country.
The key to increasing hygiene productivity is to work closely with your hygienist. Take advantage of the management systems that will increase production, but work together on common goals. This is one area of the practice that you can take advantage of now. Before you run out to add all kinds of other items to sell in the practice, you probably want to solidify that which already is there. Use your imagination.
Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at 410-486-1089.