The Exceptional Hygienist How a Truly Gifted Hygiene Department Can Enhance Your Practice

Author : Dental Product Shopper
Published Date 01/07/2011
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If you?ve ever wondered about the role your hygiene department plays in your practice, try conducting this simple experiment. After examining your patient and recommending a course of treatment, leave the room and stand outside the door for a moment and listen. If your practice is like most others, you?re likely to hear your patient asking your hygienist a question such as: ?Do I really need that treatment? What do you think? What would you do if you were me??

The Exceptional Hygienist How a Truly Gifted Hygiene Department Can Enhance Your Practice

If you?ve ever wondered about the role your hygiene department plays in your practice, try conducting this simple experiment. After examining your patient and recommending a course of treatment, leave the room and stand outside the door for a moment and listen. If your practice is like most others, you?re likely to hear your patient asking your hygienist a question such as: ?Do I really need that treatment? What do you think? What would you do if you were me??

This little eavesdropping session can give you a great deal of valuable insight into the mindset of your patients and hygienists. New patients?even those who already believe that you have their best interests at heart?understand that practice owners have a vested interest in treatments that contribute to their bottom line. But patients tend to view the hygienist differently?as a knowledgeable but approachable professional with nothing to gain by recommending or not recommending a particular treatment.

Before moving on to your next appointment, listen to your hygienist?s response to your patient?s question. What you?re listening and hoping for is a response that conveys the hygienist?s confi dence in you and the care you deliver. Ideally, the hygienist should be able to say that she, herself, is a satisfied patient who wouldn?t think of going anywhere else for her dental care. What?s the bottom line? The dentist and hygienist need to be on the same page when it comes to philosophy of care.

What a Great Hygienist Can Do

In most cases, it?s the hygienist who is responsible for creating that all-important first impression. The exceptional hygienist views this as an opportunity to provide each patient with the best and most unique dental experience of their lives, and to ensure that patients leave the offi ce believing (and telling others) that they?ve never been treated so well.

Excellent and compassionate care is a necessary first step, but it doesn?t have to be the last. Some seemingly small but extremely meaningful measures can go a long way toward setting a practice apart from all others.

? Something as simple as offering patients a beverage at the front desk will feel different to someone who is accustomed to the usual routine of other practices.

? Rather than handing patients a clipboard and shuttling them off for x-rays, the hygienist can offer a private pre-exam consult, in which patients can express their wishes and expectations.

? Even before the patient meets the dentist, the hygienist can share an experience that illustrates the exceptional care provided by the dentist.

? Using and explaining devices that enable earlier diagnosis, such as intraoral cameras, cancer-screening devices, and digital radiography involves patients in their own care and helps to further set the practice apart.

The goal is a long-term relationship with patients who believe that everyone in the practice is committed to acting in their best interests. These patients will spread the word.

Handle with Care

So, how do you go about fi nding (and retaining) hygienists who can accomplish such goals? What used to be a shortage of hygienists is now a shortage of truly great hygienists?the kind who excel not only at patient care, but also at making a valuable contribution to the dental practice.

Unfortunately, too many dentists base their hiring on training, skill level, and experience? and stop there. But while clinical skills can, for the most part, be taught, ?people skills? tend to be more elusive. The ability to make even the most fearful patient feel comfortable and to convey the staff?s willingness to fulfi ll needs and meet expectations is the mark of a truly gifted hygienist. Add to this the ability to learn and take advantage of high-tech tools, the willingness to jump in and do what?s needed beyond the job description, and the insight and patience to treat other staff members with respect, and you?re well on your way to fi nding what could be a truly exceptional hygienist.

The above notwithstanding, the dentist- hygienist relationship is a marriage of sorts, built on honesty and mutual trust. And while hiring the right hygienist is a necessary component of such relationships, the best hygienists will walk out the door if they?re not treated as competent professionals with something to contribute to the practice (See Box).

The Bottom Line

On any given day, your hygienists are likely to juggle a wide range of roles. At a time when everyone is hit hard by the realities of the economy, the hygienist?s role as a trusted patient advocate is more critical than ever.

The temptation of patients to cut corners or ?just do what?s least expensive? needs to be countered not only with creative fi nancing options, but also with straightforward and accurate information that teaches them about the benefi ts of a proactive approach to care?and the risks of ?waiting until it hurts.? That information needs to come from a trusted source, and it needs to be conveyed in a way that leaves patients with no doubt that their health is your top priority.

Tony Tomaro, DDS, and Patricia Zajac, RDH, have a private practice in Las Vegas, NV.

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