New patients are introduced in many practices in the hygiene department. Immediate needs are often diagnosed quickly and presented chairside without a comprehensive exam and presentation of a custom-designed treatment plan for complete care. Needs are many times determined on a “per visit” basis.
Patients may feel as if they belong to the Crown of the Month Club â¦ “Every time I see the hygienist, I need another crown!” This type of dentistry does not provide a roadmap for the journey to complete care that affords the patient the opportunity to accept ideal dentistry.
The patient must know what to expect on his or her initial visit. What if the opening interaction with the patient went something like this?
“Mrs. Stevens, we are happy you have called our practice and look forward to meeting you. Your visit will be with the doctor for a complete oral health examination and necessary diagnostic films. At the end of this appointment, the doctor will spend some quality time, as he does with all his new patients, discussing their dental concerns and answering any questions you may have.”
It is important to implement a system to gather information about the new patient’s dental IQ, goals, desires, value, and interest in restorative and cosmetic dentistry. The New Patient Coordinator, a team member with excellent communication skills, is a great advantage in this process. The practice will benefit in three ways:
1. The doctor is more productive. The doctor’s time is the most expensive time in the practice. Delegation of much of this scheduled time allows the dentist to increase his or her productivity through additional direct patient care. The doctor can initially welcome the patient to the practice and do a quick exam before “passing the power.”
“Good morning, Shirley, I am Dr. Anderson. Welcome to our office. Debbie, my new patient coordinator, will be spending some time taking the necessary diagnostic films and gathering some very important information for me. When she is through, I will be back to complete my thorough examination.”
When the doctor expresses confidence and trust in the team member’s abilities, it sends the message to the patient that he or she should as well.
2. Increases case acceptance. Treatment acceptance is a total team effort. The doctor only diagnoses. However, well-trained team members are capable of recognizing dental needs and beginning the educational process that significantly impacts case acceptance. Education and understanding generates value for the dentistry and results in a greater willingness and eagerness to invest in needed care. Often patients are more open and comfortable sharing their concerns with a team member. I find team members can often “sell” their doctor better than they can themselves when motivated and empowered to talk dentistry.
Debbie positions herself chairside in direct eye contact with the patient and says, “Mrs. Stevens, before we do anything else, please tell me how you feel about keeping your natural teeth for a lifetime? How do you feel about your smile? Is there anything about your smile you would change if you could?”
She carefully documents the patient’s responses. She examines the mouth and may say, “Mrs. Stevens, you have some very large fillings in your back teeth that look as if they have been there for quite some time. When you chew your food, does it become lodged between those teeth quite frequently?” or “You have some tooth-colored restorations on your front teeth that are discolored and beginning to wash away. Advancements in technology have produced newer materials that are superior in both aesthetics and durability.
While I am preparing your films, let me show you some videos and before-and-after pictures of new advances in restorative and cosmetic dentistry we are very excited about.” The patients will only be as excited about the dentistry as the level of enthusiasm of the team.
3. Increases efficiency and productivity of the hygiene department. There is greater efficiency when the patient’s periodontal health is precisely determined and corresponding procedure time accurately scheduled and prepared for. Scheduling new patients in the doctor’s schedule opens time in the hygienist’s schedule, resulting in increased hygiene department productivity.
The dentist utilizing the New Patient Coordinator and delegating patient education, pretreatment explanations, and posttreatment reassurances to his or her team while routinely presenting complete care will realize greater case acceptance and a more productive practice.