Increasing Profitability with Adequate Hygiene Appointment Times
Profitability in a dental office is the result of performing necessary treatment on an adequate number of patients in the most efficient manner to cover expenses and provide for the dentist’s income. For this to be accomplished, several issues need to be addressed:
1. A sufficient number of new patients must be finding their way to the office and their treatment needs must be identified and performed
New patients can come by way of traditional advertising, targeted mail campaigns, internet sources, an engaging website, community activity, or patient-of-record referrals. An ongoing focus towards obtaining new patients is important, but in order to qualify as successful new patient generation, new patients have to be satisfied enough to decide to come back.
Once a new patient has arrived, success is often initiated in the hygiene department. While some offices appoint new patients with the dentist first, many route them through the hygienist’s chair. This is partly due to patient requests for an “exam and cleaning” and partly due to standard office policies. Therefore, the hygienist is often the first clinical person with whom the patient becomes acquainted. How this first visit is handled can greatly affect the patient’s view of the practice and how receptive s/he is to future treatment recommendations. It is important that the patient does not feel rushed, and that there is sufficient time available to discover the patient’s primary concerns. This is typically the key to treatment acceptance!
Time is also needed for the hygienist to begin developing a relationship; the first step in establishing trust. Required medical and dental history data collection, as well as radiographs, photos, perio assessment, full mouth charting, oral cancer screening and hard tissue assessment with the dentist, must also be accomplished. This is in addition to the patient’s “cleaning.” What happens if the patient actually needs four quadrants of scaling and root planing? Is there time to begin this, complete this, and explain this? What if the patient has numerous questions or is nervous or afraid? There can be many facets to the first patient visit, and all are important. So, should the new patient appointment be scheduled for 40 minutes? 50 minutes? One hour? 1.5 hours?
The answer is that the appointment time must be long enough to adequately handle an important introduction to the practice. No one is a more ardent patient referral source than a happy new patient. They want to let everyone know how smart they were to come to your office. Conversely, an unsatisfied new patient will also spread the word. A new patient can usually take 1.5 hours in the hygiene schedule, with the dentist coming in for the exam at some point during that time.
A private conversation between the dentist and hygienist just prior to the dentist meeting the patient allows for the hygienist to give an assessment of the patient’s dental and perio condition, as well as reveal what the patient has said regarding primary concerns. Any important personal facts can also be shared. This sets the stage for a unified approach to the patient’s treatment, which bolsters a friendly and professional impression. This can increase treatment acceptance and therefore increase office profitability. Does this mean that your office should schedule more than an hour with the hygienist for a new patient? No. It means that each office needs to consider what they want to accomplish and realistically allow for the time to do it.
Office profitability also relies heavily on patients of record. It is not enough to simply encourage new patients and treat them well. Your recall patients are essential! A practice cannot grow if recall patients are leaving, regardless of new patient generation. So, what is happening during the hygiene recall appointment to encourage your patients to keep coming back? Updates of medical history, necessary radiographs, perio assessment, photos and identification of possible problems, the prophy and the dentist’s exam are the basics. Can a 40 minute appointment provide the time needed?
If data collection and radiographs take 15-20 minutes, that leaves 20 minutes for the prophy, exam, explanations, and preparing the room for the next patient. What happens if the dentist does not come for the exam in a timely manner? What happens if significant changes have occurred with the patient’s medical condition and documentation takes extra time? What happens if the patient has a broken restoration and the hygienist needs to explain the possible need for a crown? What happens if the patient signals they may be ready to have that implant the dentist has been recommending and wants to talk it over? Given sufficient time, patients will understand and agree to further treatment during a recall appointment. If the hygienist only has time to rush through the basics, necessary treatment will be missed - or if identified, may not be scheduled. Identification and encouragement of treatment in recall patients is a significant source of office profitability.
Adequate hygiene appointment times can increase office profits, and along with the business assistant’s efforts to ensure that treatment accomplished is also paid for, can form the backbone for a successful practice.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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