Is there a moat or a bridge between you and your hygienist? Oftentimes dentists view their hygienist as just another employee – an important one, yes, and a fellow producer, certainly. But they frequently overlook the fact that, next to the dentist, this person is likely the most influential voice in the office and a vital partner when it comes to treatment acceptance.
The hygienist is typically the first clinical link between the doctor and the patient, making it all the more important that there be a strong communication bridge and not the great divide between the dentist and the hygienist.
Treating the hygienist as an essential partner in improving treatment acceptance will go a long way in reaching your production objectives. In many cases, it is the hygienist who first introduces new patients to the periodontal and restorative options available. And it is the hygienist who also should be continually reiterating or reinforcing those options with existing patients. Take a few steps to develop strategies to enhance treatment communication among the doctor, the hygienist, and the patient.
First, the hygienist must have a comprehensive understanding of restorative and periodontal procedures that are performed in the office. And, equally important, the hygienist should be fully trained and comfortable discussing those treatments.
Next, it is essential that the hygienist involve the patient in the diagnostic process. This should allow the patient to see the condition of their oral health and encourage two-way communication. Through co-discovery, the hygienist educates and informs the patient of their oral health needs and possible treatment options.
Also during this process, the patients should be asked specifically what their oral health concerns are, if they have specific questions, or if they are curious about any treatments they may have heard of. In laying the foundation for excellent treatment acceptance, it is imperative that hygienists ask patients about their smile because most patients are completely unaware of the functional reasons why they should invest in restorative and esthetic dentistry, and they will never raise the issue themselves.
In some cases, a patient will just assume that the dentist doesn't do cosmetic or other procedures because they are never mentioned. Or they will assume that the doctor does not consider the treatment appropriate because it hasn't been recommended or even suggested as an option for the patient.
Now consider the handoff. After the diagnostic tests are completed, the hygienist explains the findings to the dentist in front of the patient. She/he also informs the dentist of the patient's interest or questions regarding other treatments. The patient hears the findings again, which is important for patient comprehension and reinforces the value of the diagnosis. The dentist examines the patient and confirms or alters the diagnosis as necessary without undermining the hygienist's credibility. If the doctor does not agree with the recommendation, then he/she explains the alternative and why it varies from the hygienist's. If the explanation is handled in a tactful and positive manner, the patient will not be concerned or doubt the recommendation.
Once the patient comprehends the diagnosis and understands what procedures are necessary to address their oral health needs and wants, the goal is for the patient to accept recommended treatment.
If you sense the patient is reluctant, it is important to isolate the reasons why and address those. The most common barriers are fear, money, and time. It is essential that patients understand the benefits of treating conditions prior to experiencing symptoms. We owe it to our patients to tell them that the number one benefit to proceeding with diagnosed treatment prior to symptoms is it will cost them less money, result in less pain, and make fewer demands on their time in virtually every instance.
In addition, patient financing programs, such as CareCredit, enable the patient to secure a payment plan immediately and remove one of the most troublesome obstacles to treatment acceptance: money.
Create a strong communication partnership with your hygienist. Train the hygienist to involve the patient in the discovery process, to ask questions, and take the time to listen. With input from the hygienist, provide the patient clear diagnoses and options. Show the patient the possibilities for treatment they may have never considered. Create value at every step during the exam, and develop an oral hygiene experience for the patient that lays the foundation for superior treatment acceptance.