Educating Patients About What to Expect and What is Expected of Them
In my last article, I discussed the benefits of hiring a patient coordinator and having one person responsible and accountable for the recall system. This person makes all of the calls and sends the written correspondence. However, it is up to the entire team to help support the recall system. The responsibilities of the hygienist and doctor are still great when it comes to supporting office protocol, educating patients about office policy, and the recall system. During the hygiene appointment, all new patients should be taught about office protocol and policy and it should sound similar to this:
“Mr. Jones, I want to go over a couple of things with you so you are aware of what to expect at your future hygiene appointments. At your next hygiene appointment, the hygienist will take your blood pressure, do an oral cancer exam and look around your entire mouth for any suspicious areas where there may be decay. Probings will be done again and you know from the numbers we did earlier on you that you want to hear 2’s and 3’s. This is to make sure that your mouth is getting healthier or staying healthy. Once a year we will take the four bitewing x-rays that check for cavities and let us look at the bone levels in the back of the mouth. About every 3-5 years we will take a full mouth series of x-rays depending on what is needed based on your individual oral health. The doctor will come in and do an exam and if there is ever a time that you would like to have something specific checked, please let us know.”
The patient should also be informed of how long the appointment will last by both the hygienist and the scheduling coordinator. If this were a patient that has just completed root planing, the hygienist should also go over what to expect when they return for the periodontal maintenance appointment. This would include all of the above, and the following would be added to sound like this:
“Mr. Jones we have now completed your active phase of periodontal therapy, and next you will go into the maintenance phase of your treatment. In three months, it is recommended that you come back for the periodontal maintenance appointment. This appointment will be in-between what we just did and a cleaning. It depends on your periodontal health that day as to what we will do for you. If an area needs to be numb or anesthetized we will get that area numb. Your quality of home care that you provide to yourself will make the difference of how and what you need when you come in.”
All of this will be gone over with the patient during the appointment. Towards the end of the appointment, the hygienist will go over the recall system and what is expected of the patient:
“Mr. Jones, this is a reminder notice that we will be sending to you approximately 2-3 weeks prior to the month you are due to return. When you receive this in the mail (or if the practice is using email or text messages) please give us a call so we can schedule a time that is convenient for you. If you would go ahead and address this envelope to yourself, then about two weeks prior to your appointment we will mail it out to you. Please check your calendar and call us immediately as appointments fill up quickly and it is imperative for your health to stay on the recommended periodontal intervals.”
Regardless of the type or method of your recall system, the point is to explain how your system works and what you expect of the patient.
When the doctor comes in to do the exam on the patient, they should also reinforce the recall system. Both the hygienist and the doctor should also say the month that the patient will be due for their next appointment. If it is around a holiday, they should mention that so that the patient is aware, in case they are going out of town or are having company. This will get them thinking about their future schedule.
The more informed and educated patients are about what is expected of them and what to expect at future appointments, the more important the appointments become and last minute cancellations and no shows can be decreased.
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