Your Future Is In Your Hygiene Department
By Nancy Caudill, Senior Consultant McKenzie Management
One system that fails in almost all general family practices is in the area of hygiene. Let’s think about the logistics for a moment. If you are a doctor with a practice that is ten years old and you have been averaging 20 new hygiene patients a month, that is 2400 patients x 2 visits/yr = 4800 appointments needed. If your hygienist is averaging 9 patients per day, you would need 533 hygiene days. Working an average of 192 days a year, this equates to 2.7 hygienists per day. Imagine if you have been working 15-20 years!
Why Don’t You Have 2.7 Hygienists Per Day?
Because you probably don’t need that many! Neither did Dr. Shively. It is not uncommon for McKenzie Management to work with an office that only has one hygienist after 10 years, because the one hygienist that they have is not busy enough to warrant hiring another one.
Reasons for Dr. Shively’s Weak Hygiene Department:
- Lack of an effective periodontal program
- Lack of a systematic follow-up program
- Lack of understanding by the doctor regarding how important the Hygiene Department is to the growth of the practice
- Lack of an assigned Hygiene Coordinator who is responsible for the success of the program
It is never too late to implement a valuable and needed periodontal program in a practice, just as Dr. Shively did. She prepared her entire team by inviting Carol Tekavec, McKenzie Management’s Hygiene Consultant, to her practice to get them started off on the right foot.
Just as important to a successful hygiene program is the follow-up. Your practice could have 40 new hygiene patients coming in the front door every month, but if you are losing 50 out the back door then your practice will never grow! We have to admit that dental patients do not walk around all day just waiting for their semi-annual visit to their dentist. Unless they have a toothache, the dentist is the last thought that crosses their minds. That is why we must remind them of how important their visits are.
- Contact your patients that are due for their hygiene visits by phone, email, text message or personal notices by mail. These are your patients with and without appointments. If they have an appointment, it is to inform them that you are looking forward to seeing them. It they don’t have an appointment, it is to inform them that it is time to call to schedule an appointment.
- Contact all patients that are 30 days past due by telephone, if possible. These patients have already received an initial contact from you from the previous month. About 30% of the patients that did not have appointments will call and the other 70% won’t.
- The patients that are 60 days past due should receive notification from you by a nice letter on letterhead stationary indicating that you have missed seeing them for this very important visit in order to help them maintain healthy gums and teeth. Consider enclosing an educational brochure about the necessity of professional cleanings. If this is a periodontal involved patient, the letter should more directly address their specific needs.
- A past due recall report should be generated for patients 6 months past due. These patients should be contacted by phone, email, text message or mail. Again, restating the importance of their visit.
- At 12 months past due (this is 18 months since they were seen in hygiene last if their recall interval is every 6 months), it is time to accept the fact that these patients are not “active” patients in your practice. A nice letter should be sent to them requesting a response regarding their interest in maintaining their active status, have they left the practice, do they prefer to call when they need you, etc.
This letter should also include a statement indicating that as the dentist responsible for providing dental care for them, unless you see them on a regular basis you cannot be responsible for the maintenance of their dental health. These patients are now considered “inactive” and if you have paper records for your patients, their record should be relocated from the “active” A-Z records to the “inactive” A-Z records.
The Hygiene Coordinator
Dr. Shively recognized the importance of Job Descriptions for her two business team members. They worked well together but they were not efficient. They were both doing many of the same daily tasks without accountability. They invited the concept of specific duties so they could focus 100% on what they needed to do instead of trying to do it all at 50%.
As a result, one of the team members accepted this most important role of Hygiene Coordinator. She understood that the future of the practice depended on her ability to maintain the follow-up systems in order to “grow” the Hygiene Department from one hygienist to two.
The Future of Your Practice
Take a few minutes to evaluate your Hygiene Department based on the number of years you have been in practice. Put the pencil to the paper and see where you think that you should be regarding how many hygienists you should have compared to how many you do have. Run your Recall Report for the next 12 months and see how many “active” patients you have compared to the number of paper records you have on the shelves. You may be shocked!
Know that the future of your practice is in hygiene. It is as simple as this: The more mouths you look in, the more productive you will be and the more patients you will serve!
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