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5.12.06 Issue #218

So, Your Office Was Referred a New Patient From Another General Dentist

Jean Gallienne RDH BS
Hygiene Consultant McKenzie Management

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I recently had an office ask me the question, “What do we do when the office around the corner is closing their doors and are referring patients to our office? Then the patients are calling our office expecting to be able to appoint for their regular recall appointment as if they never changed practices? All of their x-rays are up to date, and they are not overdue for a prophylaxis.”

This is a great time to establish office protocol. Not only for the patients coming from the neighborhood office, but also for any patients that call. These are new patients to your office and need to be treated as new patients no matter where they come from. These people need to be “WOWED!” just like all of your patients every time they walk in the door or telephone your office. They have the right to know what treatment provides optimal care for them, and that your office is committed to providing quality of care for both the teeth and gums.

First, take all of their information by interviewing them with the new patient interview form that your office uses when new patients call. When the patient informs your office personnel that they only need to schedule for a cleaning, seize the moment in educating your new patient about your office protocol. Always remember that office protocol needs to be taught from the first point of contact in the office until the day that patient moves out of the area. Of course, this is done in a very polite non-confrontational manner. Here is just one approach that may be used, “Mr. Jones, I realize that Doctor Black’s office has taken very good care of you, and we would like that same opportunity. Therefore, it is best if we schedule you with the doctor first, so you can get to know Doctor Good and the excellent care that we take pride in providing. I will schedule you with Doctor Good for an exam, and then have you scheduled with the hygienist. ”

Take note, the person making the appointments does not say that they are going to schedule them for a professional cleaning appointment. It is best to say, “…and then have you scheduled with the hygienist.” The reasoning is because this patient may need more than a professional cleaning.

Let’s assume the patient still demands a professional cleaning, and refuses to see Doctor Good. Do you still appoint the patient with the doctor and lose a potentially good patient? It is suggested that the patient be scheduled with doctor first, but if you have no other choice then appoint the patient with the hygienist, but remember you will not tell the patient you are appointing them for a professional cleaning. Be sure to give the hygienist enough time to win that patient over and build patient rapport.

The patient is now walking in the front door and they are greeted. “Mr. Jones, welcome to our practice. Jean, our hygienist, will be examining your gum tissues today during your professional hygiene appointment. If you will fill out this questionnaire along with your new patient information, this will help both of you to evaluate the health of your gums.” It is recommended that the patient is mailed the health history, HIPAA, and any brochures or questionnaires you want filled out prior to their initial visit. 

Questionnaires and brochures addressing the signs and symptoms of gum disease such as the American Dental Association’s, Gum Disease Are you at Risk?, could be introduced at this time. The patient would simply make a mental note or check any symptoms they have experienced. This will lead to conversation in the treatment area regarding their periodontal condition. Using a co-discovery technique enables the examiner to create value for the patient.

Following the periodontal exam, the patient will have an indication as to whether they have signs of gum disease. Doctor Good will also come in and do a cursory exam and meet the patient during the hygiene appointment. Communication between the hygienist and the doctor regarding the patient’s condition and concerns should occur either before the doctor enters the treatment room or done in front of the patient as the doctor begins the examination. This communication can be verbal or non-verbal but the dentist should not examine the patient without being aware of existing conditions and potential treatment areas that were discussed with the patient by the hygienist. If the doctor does not agree with the recommendations, then the doctor needs to explain the alternative treatment and why it varies from the hygienist’s. If the alternative treatment is presented in a tactful and positive manner, the patient will not be concerned with the treatment chosen for them. The doctor always has the final say in what therapy is necessary.

The patient is more likely to accept treatment needed if they have been thoroughly educated about their needs. With the use of good verbal skills and non-verbal skills such as the intra-oral camera, and brochures, your office will be successful in educating your new patients.

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