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Rebooting the dental hygiene department

May 1, 2021
Adding a personal touch will set you apart from your competition. Patients will appreciate a handwritten letter or phone call that will ideally guide them back for their hygiene visits.

On February 23, 2021, Time magazine ran an article titled, “You may be surprised by the type of American who is postponing basic healthcare during the pandemic.” This article summarized the results of a Time-Harris poll, a survey with 1,093 participants. When asked if they had postponed any type of medical care, 78% of respondents reported that they had put off at least some medical services during the past three months of the pandemic. Of those procedures, dental exams or cleanings were the most frequently missed, with 30% responding that they had postponed or passed on their regular oral care.1

On average in a dental practice, 25%–35% of the total practice revenue is generated through the hygiene department.2 For example, if a dental practice produces $1 million in revenue a year, of that, about $300,000 is from hygiene. If the results of the Time-Harris poll are correct, and one-third of our patients are postponing preventive care, we would see a decrease of $100,000 in total practice revenue. With this in mind, what proactive steps can you take to reboot your hygiene department and encourage your patients to return to your practice?

Before you begin

The first thing you need to consider is, “Why are my patients not returning for their hygiene visits?” Answers include job loss, which means no insurance and less money; unavailability for appointments due to children being home; and of course, fear of catching COVID-19. The best way to help your patients return for their dental care is to address their concerns.

A personal campaign to connect

To connect, I suggest that you go on a “personal campaign to connect,” first with a phone call, and then with a handwritten letter. Why a personal campaign? During this time, many people are feeling isolated and lonely. Reaching out to your patients will show them how much you care about.

Getting a phone call from you, hearing your voice, or receiving a handwritten note are intimate, out-of-the-norm ways to connect with them and send a clear message that you care. Plus, taking personal steps like these sets you apart from other dentists and their practices. Think of it like marketing; after receiving your phone call or note, I guarantee that your patients will be talking to their friends about your kindness.

Steps to reboot campaign

1. Gather a list of the patients you haven’t seen in a year. After you’ve compiled this list, decide who on your team has the best relationship with the patient, and this includes the dentist. The purpose of this is to match the patient with the person best suited for them.
2. Once you have assigned patients to team members, have them research the charts of each patient to gain information about their treatment history. This is crucial. Callers will use this information to personalize their phone calls and handwritten letters.
3. Keep your communication focused on the patient. Remember that the purpose of your call is not to fill your schedule; rather, it’s to help your patients decide to return for the care they need. Do that, and your schedule will start to fill.

A sample script

Here is an example of a phone call. “Hello Mr. Jones, this is Mary, your hygienist from Dr. Smith’s office. How are you doing?” After a few pleasantries, continue, “Mr. Jones, I have your chart notes in front of me and I’ve noticed that we haven’t seen you in a year. Dr. Smith and I are very concerned about the health of your mouth. I see from the notes that at each of your visits we removed a moderate amount of tartar. Further, the notes show that for the past four years, with your regular visits, we were able to keep your gums healthy. Also, I’m noticing that at your past visits I applied a fluoride varnish to prevent cavities and because of that, you didn’t have any cavities for more than five years!” The main point of this conversation is to show your concern and share your observations.

Next, ask, “Mr. Jones, may I ask what’s kept you from coming in for your preventive visits?” Whatever the answer, listen carefully, and then paraphrase what you heard. “It sounds like you’re concerned about contracting COVID.” If the person agrees with what you repeated back, ask permission to share information to address their concerns. “Mr. Jones, may I share some of the measures we’re taking to protect our patients?”

If they say “yes,” then briefly tell them what you’re doing. Talk about how you’re following all of the CDC guidelines and how the incidence of COVID transmission from dental offices is low. During your conversations, be sure to use phrases such as, “eliminating the germs in the office” or “we use powerful cleaners.” These are words patients understand. Make reference to other patients who have had similar concerns. “Just last week I saw a patient who was concerned about getting COVID and after her visit she said she couldn’t get over all we’re doing to keep our patients safe.”

Documentation and follow-up

After your explanation, ask for the patient’s thoughts regarding the information. Ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” If they say “no,” thank them and say, “We look forward to helping you and seeing you when you feel comfortable returning for dental care. It was nice talking with you today.” My guess is that with your excellent communication skills, your concerns, honesty, and sincerity, and keeping your conversation focused on them, they will make an appointment on the spot. If they don’t, ask if you can call them again in a month. Document your findings and be sure to follow up.

Conclusion

This is just a sample of the steps you can take to reboot your hygiene practice. Whatever you do, keep your conversations focused on your patients’ needs and concerns. Addressing their needs, listening to their concerns, and allaying their fears in a personal manner can effectively address the needs of your practice.

Remember, during the pandemic, many people are scared, lonely, and struggling financially. When you focus on your patients’ concerns, you show them how much you care about them, their safety, and their dental health. Making it personal with your phone calls and handwritten notes sets you apart from others. As a result, your practice and hygiene schedule will improve.

References

1. You may be surprised by the type of American who Is postponing basic health care during the pandemic. Time. February 23, 2021. https://time.com/5941599/basic-health-care-postponed-covid-19/ 

2. Watterson D. The successful hygiene department: Understanding the numbers. Dental Economics. July 15, 2015. https://www.dentaleconomics.com/science-tech/article/16391556/the-successful-hygiene-department-understanding-the-numbers

ROBERT M. MAGUIRE, DDS, MASCL, is a dental speaker, coach, practice consultant, and DISC trainer who is passionate about leadership and communication. If you’d like more information about Dr. Maguire and how he can help you and your team communicate better, visit thefulfillment.coach or email [email protected].

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