As a dentist and business owner, you may see articles about running a profitable hygiene department and your first instinct is to copy the link or print out the article and give it to your hygienist.
I’m going to ask you to stop and read this article. This was written especially for you. There will be some resources here that will help you work WITH your team to overcome the chaos and improve the care you’re delivering. But this message is for you and the success of your hygiene department starts with you, the clinical leader.
The vast majority of practice owners we’ve spoken to in the last 2 years have seen an uptick in patient flow into the practice due to families relocating, delayed treatment becoming more urgent, etc. The problem is this uptick has not always led to increased profits or improved patient outcomes. Coupled with a reduction in available hygienists, team turnover and the challenge of keeping clear systems in place, there has been a lot of chaos and overwhelm within practices. Every week, we speak with owners who express frustration and frankly, they’ve run out of ideas for how to overcome this and get back to stability.
While we continue to employ time-tested strategies and industry standards, there are times we need to approach things differently and from a new perspective. Here are 3 new rules to transform that volume and chaos into better patient outcomes and improved hygiene profitability. At Inspired Hygiene, we’ve had the opportunity to work with practices of every size in nearly every state over the last 20 years. With the current state of the industry, there’s a small window of opportunity to refocus on your systems for high-level patient care to create stability and profitability in your practice. We’ve also included resources for you at the end of this article – we hope you’ll use them. Now, let’s get started.
If you are the dentist and owner of your dental business, you are the clinical leader and your actions and leadership directly impact the success of the hygiene department. You’ve spent years dedicated to the study of dental medicine and if you’re reading this journal, my guess is you are committed to continuing your education and following current science to provide the best in modern dentistry to your community.
Has your hygiene fallen behind?
You can’t focus on everything at once. It’s common to see a dentist owner who is using the latest technology and has spent countless hours and investments on elevating their own clinical skills and services yet the hygiene department has not experienced the same advances. Your leadership and the support of the entire team is required for a hygiene department to thrive. This involves clear clinical protocols as well as scheduling and case presentation systems. A self-managed hygiene department is possible when the leaders first empower the hygienists and provide the tools and education necessary for the level of patient care and productivity that you expect.
If your hygienists are resistant to delivering the care you feel is in your patient’s best interest, it’s time to calibrate, communicate and get on the same page. That’s where rule #2 comes in.
Clinical results and consistency are essential to driving business growth. Encouraging patients to move forward with treatment should first and foremost have a positive impact on the patient and which in turn should generate positive business outcomes.
It’s interesting to hear a team member complain about the need to present and follow up on treatment presented when this is the very activity that keeps the doors open. The whole point of a dental practice is to help address dental disease and move patients closer to oral and overall wellness. Without stellar patient outcomes, the business spins in a state of busyness resulting in burnout and patient turnover.
If you observe inconsistent execution of diagnosis and treatment philosophies among the dentists and hygienists that you work with, resolve those issues immediately.
Work with your team to develop clear, written Standards of Care. This activity brings the focus back to the core purpose of the business and drives consistent patient care with the entire team on the same page.
While you are the clinical leader and ultimately the decision maker on clinical protocols, when your team is allowed to provide input, they are much more likely to be on board and fully supportive. When working with our clients, we utilize a Standard of Care worksheet to facilitate the process.
Once you have your standards clearly outlined, get agreement and commitment from your entire team to support these clinical standards and then hold each other accountable to them. That means your team will be holding you accountable as well.
Practice Management Tip for the Dentist
Trust and Verify
Lead - don’t micro-manage:
- Set the clinical standards with your team, then give them the tools, training and support they need to be successful. Then trust them. If at any point you’re seeing signs that the standards you created are not being followed, verify and reset with positive communication.
- When you see patients that are bleeding and treatment to address the disease has not been presented, ask why in a kind and direct way. ‘Let’s discuss Mr. Jones. Can you help me understand your recommendations for him?’
Not sure what micro-managing looks like? Here's some examples...
- Not allowing hygienists to co-diagnose obvious disease and educate with the patient what they see (Dentist makes final diagnosis)
- Sharply disagreeing with or ignoring the hygienist’s clinical opinion in front of the patient
- Dismissing the hygienist’s recommendation to the patient with ‘let’s check it next time’
- Re-explaining every step of a procedure with the patient because you’re sure the hygienist didn’t do it right
- Hygienists using outdated and worn out equipment and instruments because they are afraid to ask for new tools or they’ve been told they aren’t allowed to order anything
- Waiting until the very end of the hygiene visit to do your exam because you want to be sure every speck of stain or plaque is gone
It’s been a wild and heavy couple of years. If you’re like the rest of the world, things have been chaotic and your team is feeling overwhelmed. In 2020, a lot of dental teams threw their systems out the window and went into survival mode. You may feel like you’re still there. Your team is likely looking to you for clarity and strategies to reduce the chaos.
Hygiene teams across the country have been struggling with heavy demand for appointments, staffing challenges, last minute cancellations and rising overhead despite dropping reimbursement. Creating clarity out of all this chaos is challenging. We understand and we’re here to help. Here are a few of the processes we’ve seen work to help our clients reduce the chaos:
- Standard of Care: As a team, recommit to your clinical standards. Resist the urge to let a busy schedule cost your patients a proper diagnosis and treatment. The care you provide can be lifesaving.
- Scheduling: Reserve time for priority care. Your patients’ health IS a priority. Even if you don’t have time on your schedule the next few weeks, go out until you see space and block time for periodontal care on the schedule. If your hygiene schedule is booked out for months, start NOW to take control so you can expand services. We can help.
- Hygiene-Doctor Handoff: Increase the effectiveness of the time you spend in hygiene exams. Empower your hygienists to prepare the patient fully for the exam before they call you. Build them up and spend time sharing your clinical philosophy with them. Give them permission to lead a strong handoff. Then outline what you need to be as effective and efficient as possible during the exam and practice it.
With positive leadership and guiding principles followed by all, it is possible to reset your hygiene team for a successful 2023 and beyond.
Whatever challenges we are facing in the coming years, having your hygiene house in order will set your practice up with a solid foundation to weather whatever comes next. A thriving hygiene department can be the backbone of a profitable practice that delivers outstanding care.