Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH
"What do you love about your work?” That’s a question I frequently ask at my seminars. The answer usually is, “My patients!”
The hygienist is in the unique position of building a trusting, long-term relationship with patients. They often look to the hygienist for help in their decision-making about treatment. It is not unusual for patients to ask for feedback after the dentist leaves the treatment room. “Do I really need that?” or “What would you do?” are frequently asked questions.
If this is an area that needs improvement in your practice, here are some ideas to consider. The key element is communication.
1) Communication between doctor and hygienist. Many hygienists tell me that they are not sure about the doctor’s expectations when discussing dental treatment with patients. Overcome this obstacle by meeting with your hygienist in a comfortable and supportive setting to answer questions and clarify your expectations. Hold staff meetings to review the latest in dental techniques and materials. Regularly scheduled meetings (not a rushed 20-second conversation in the hallway between patients) provide the opportunity to explore new ideas, encourage initiative, and revisit goals.
2) Communication between hygienist and patient. Once your hygienist has your “permission” to educate and set the stage, then role-play presentation skills. The hygienist might say to the patient, “I am so excited about the dentistry we provide! It is changing our patients’ lives.” This is one way to prompt a restorative or esthetic treatment discussion with your patients.
3) Communication tools. Visual aids such as the intraoral camera, imaging systems, professional brochures, before and after photos, and computer-based, patient- education programs are key communication tools. Is the technology in your office fully utilized? In many practices I visit, the intraoral camera is typically used during the new-patient appointment ... and then it gets buried. Two common reasons for this lack of use are:
“I’m not really sure how to use it. We learned when we first got the camera, but since we don’t use it regularly ...” This is easily remedied with staff meetings in which all team members have an opportunity to be “the patient.”
When was the last time you sat in the dental chair? How does it feel to be the patient? Once comfortable with using an intraoral camera, most hygienists will not part with it. It’s the best tool for educating, motivating, and case presentation, and it builds compliance.
4) Make sure the before and after pictures of the exquisite dentistry you provide are out in front of your patients’ eyes? Daily audit review of the patients’ records enable the hygienist (and the entire team) to identify “undone” dentistry. Orchestrate and plan the day so all tools (camera, visual aids, staff, etc.) are in the treatment room and ready to go.
5) Utilize audiovisual patient-education programs (such as CAESY) with voice commentary and pictures.They are effective because patients “listen” even when they are not “watching”. When the doctor arrives for the exam, the hygienist reports preliminary findings and patient concerns, and reviews any suggestions she has made. By following this procedure, the doctor knows exactly what has occurred and can continue the dialogue in a timely fashion.
Throughout the country, the most successful and productive practices are those in which the hygienist is an ambassador for the practice and a cheerleader with the team. Working in concert with the doctor and sharing and promoting the same vision result in maximum personal, professional, and productive rewards for everyone. Once the lines of communication are open, it is easy to achieve these goals.
Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH, is a recognized leader in the field and an award-winning speaker and consultant. She is a featured speaker at dental meetings and provides in-office consulting services with her team of business and clinical consultants. She may be reached at her Web site at AnnetteLinder.com, via email at Annette@annettelinder.com, or by phone at (804) 745-6015.