to Dental Practice Solutions

Welcome to dentistry’s largest dental hygiene practice management resource center! We are the leading dental hygiene consultant/coaching business.

We will increase your TOTAL dental practice profitability without working more hours or days each year.

- Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS, Speaker, Author. Dental Hygiene Coach & Consultant

Dental Practice Solutions - Debbie Bittke

Got Profits? 10 Facts of the Matter.

By: Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS

March 27, 2012

The Dental Hygiene Department needs to be and should be the 2nd highest profit center in your dental practice. Imagine this now! Possibly, when you see the words “INCREASE and PROFITS” together, you see a treadmill where high volume and financial reward are the main focus of the dental hygiene department. I hope you see quality patient-centered care when you put the words increase and profits together in the same sentence. These 2 words can be congruent with operating the successful systems in your dental practice.

A Paradigm Shift

During the twenty-first century, the goal of helping our patients has now progressed from treating infection to providing good health. It is very important that your team understand the cost of running a dental practice. It is when the team understands the financial aspects of a dental practice that the members of the dental team will be committed to excellence. It is important to have team meetings to educate every team member of the cost associated with the daily operations of running the business of dentistry and dental hygiene. One important time to deliver this information is the morning team-huddle.

The Facts

The fact is, the hygiene department is the second largest profit center in the dental practice and provides support for the practice as a whole. Within the hygiene department are several other areas of profitability for the dental practice.

Most of your patients spend one hour–two to possibly four times a year with the dental hygienist(s) and because of this ongoing relationship patients are more likely to remain committed to your practice, accept treatment recommendations and refer patients to your dental office. This makes your dental hygiene department a business within a business and it makes the dental hygiene executive in this department held accountable for the success. When the dental hygienist is held accountable for the department success and when he/she understands the vision and principles of the dental practice, success will follow. You will find the team working in harmony when they understand the vision for the practice, share the same code of patient ethics and take ownership for the way patients are treated.

When every team member takes ownership of their role in the dental practice the patients are sure to experience a caring attitude, a superior dental experience, the highest level of care and the profits are certain to follow. This is what creates a win-win situation.

One of the most important aspects of the dental hygiene treatment that is often overlooked is the list of assessments. Dental hygienists feel as if they are on a treadmill but when the team plans the day effectively these assessments can really make the day run smoothly, allow patients to feel they received the highest level of care and now allows for a more comprehensive treatment plan to occur. The treatment plan now moves to a higher level of care. Profits will follow.

New Treatment Heights

There are approximately 10 assessments that stimulate profitability in the dental hygiene department. These ten are all important aspects of the patients’ oral and total health. Not all offices participate in this list of 10 and this is where untapped potential can be easily missing.

If you take a look at the list below and notice a missing piece choose to just implement 1 or 2 within the next month. Make an appointment this month to discuss with your team how to implement these ten successfully into the dental hygiene patient appointment time. Be patient with these changes and take time to discuss how to effectively implement these with full participation from the entire team.

The most overlooked assessments are the annual full-mouth periodontal screening exam. Still in the 21st century many hygienists who see a patient every six months, neglect to pick up a periodontal probe prior to picking up a curette. Most dental offices assessed during an initial consultation for practice management services, are found to have approximately 15% of their adult patients lacking early intervention and preventive procedures for periodontal disease. If each of these patients continues down this path we know that research states this disease process will continue and the patient will at some point experience tooth mobility and most likely tooth loss.

When disease goes untreated, imagine what this will cost the dental practice? Take into account that most non-surgical periodontal treatment plans are approximately $1,000.00 for four quadrants of just scaling and root planing not taking into account the use of antimicrobials or laser therapy. Now take into account the frequency of the periodontal maintenance appointments that follow about every 90 days.

Once a periodontal patient, always a periodontal patient. It is the same as a patient with diabetes or high blood pressure. These patients are seen frequently and always at risk for future disease even after the disease has been halted. These diseases are all episodic. We are not talking about the almighty dollar but a gain of our patients’ overall health!

Another new area of treatment that is overlooked at this time is the pediatric patient – first visit. CAMBRA is a new evidence-based protocol for assessing caries. It is now the standard of care for the pediatric patient to have their first visit when the first primary tooth erupts. This appointment can be done in a consult room with the child seated on the mothers lap. This is an appointment to assess the tooth structure, biofilm and any suspicious areas of the child’s oral cavity. If you are concerned about receiving payment the CDT codes have you covered.

How many patients qualify for this preventive measure? How will this benefit your patients and your bottom line?

When the dental hygienist and team all understand the need to prevent and intervene at an early stage vs. wait and watch; not only does the patient gain an improved level of health but the dental hygiene production will automatically increase. Establish periodontal and the various preventive protocols today. Now is the time to cease treating the periodontal patient with a prophy appointment and begin to utilize the
preventive measures according to the new CAMBRA guidelines.

Another area in dentistry that has changed in the past decade or more is selling home care products. Many decades ago we wrote a prescription or sent our patients to a pharmacy with names of products written on a piece of paper. Our knowledge and research over the past few decades states that 70% of these patients returned to our dental office and never took time to get the prescription filled. Patients seldom took that piece of paper with them to purchase the specific product recommended. When patients have the toothbrush they are to use and shown in the dental office how to use that new power toothbrush they are more likely to use the brush effectively.

This is the one area of your dental practice that has a net profit of about a 70%. You can spend hours preparing a crown or bridge and you have lab fees to pay at the end. The ROI (return on investment) for home care products sold in the dental office is about 70%. We want patients to buy their home care products from the experts, the people who know which toothpaste, toothbrush, mouth rinse, etc. is appropriate for each individual patient to use at home. The sales person at the local drug store and even the pharmacist is not the person to educate a patient about xylitol and its benefits, let alone what type of silica is appropriate to use on the expensive restorations the dental patient just paid for.

By engaging and empowering the entire team your dental business is certain to excel. You will create a cohesive team and a dental practice based on patient-centered care, excellence and the extraordinary. Realizing your potential for the dental hygiene team and creating a thriving profit center inside this valuable department of your business is essential to building the dental practice you have always dreamed of. This assures you long-term relationships along side your success.

Your team and the dental hygiene department are all very important assets to the health, profitability and success of the dental practice.

The 10 FACTS for Profitability:

  1. Perform oral health care assessments that include the review of patients’ health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening, periodontal assessments, biofilm assessment, saliva pH test, smile analysis, xerostomia, etc.
  2. Expose and interpret dental radiographs (x-rays); co-diagnose
  3. Non-surgical periodontal procedures, antimicrobial agents, laser therapy, etc.
  5. Apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides varnish and sealants to the teeth;
  6. Administer local anesthetic and / or nitrous oxide analgesia;
  7. Educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums and recommend home care products
  8. Discuss whitening treatment and take impressions when applicable
  9. Administer smoking cessation programs; and
  10. Counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining

Debra Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS is founder of Dental Practice Solutions a full-service dental consulting, coaching and speaking business. Ms Seidel-Bittke is considered a leader in the field of dental hygiene and named one of Dentistry Today’s top consultants. Dental Practice Solutions is focused on increasing the profitability of your dental practice quickly through 4 areas of the dental hygiene department. Research and technological advances have created more opportunities to deliver a higher level of non-surgical periodontal care. An important component of any successful dental business is the function and profitability of the dental hygiene department.

6 Steps to Create a Highly Profitable Dental Hygiene Department

By: Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS

March 13, 2012

For many years the dental hygiene department has been known as a loss leader. We live in a new era of dentistry. If you have specific systems in place you will add value to your patient services, increase case acceptance and increase your dental business profits.  Here is a 6 step process to streamline this process and increase your profits.

For many years the dental hygiene department has been thought of as a loss leader. Furthermore, many dental professionals believe they must see more patients each day and complete more procedures during a patient appointment to become more profitable. Perhaps, if you are a dental hygienist, when you hear the phrase, “Increase profits,” you cringe and think of working longer hours.

The good news: This doesn’t have to be the case for you! But why are some hygiene departments more profitable than others? We’ll tell you why and share the secrets to success in 6 steps. Times have changed, and the business of dental hygiene can mean profits for the entire dental team. When the correct systems are in place, a day in the dental office will feel less like a migraine and more like a mission accomplished

1. Understand the Importance of the Hygienist’s Role

Hygienists play a huge role in the growth of a dental practice today. In fact, the hygiene department should be the second-largest profit center in the dental practice. Think of the dental hygienist as an ambassador for the dental practice. Indeed, the hygienist is in a very unique position, spending a large majority of one-on-one time with patients in the chair. The hygienist is first in line to present the risks and benefits of preventive and aesthetic dental treatments. The dental hygienist can, thus, set the stage to help patients accept treatment plans, large and small.

Furthermore, when a hygienist sees the same patients multiple times a year, he or she has a chance to develop personal relationships with these patients — and this means building more trust. This added trust will, then, make patients more likely to listen to the hygienist’s treatment plan suggestions and more likely to ask the hygienist for help in their decision-making process.

Examples of where a hygienist can — and should — get involved with suggestions and decision-making include:
• Choosing the best restorative options
• Deciding upon various cosmetic/aesthetic procedures
• Understanding preventive products, such as power toothbrushes and knowing which one is best for them
• Choosing which mouth rinse to buy and what toothpaste is best suited for their oral condition.

2. Foster Daily Teamwork

All successful businesses begin with a collaborative team. Even the vocabulary the world’s most successful businesses use will describe their employees and show the companies’ high regard for teamwork. Wal-mart employees are known as associates. When you’re a guest at the Ritz Carlton, employees and guests are known as, “ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.”

And there’s no reason your dental office can’t emanate (and profit from) these very same values. For starters, everyone should be on the same page. Each member of the dental team needs to be enthusiastic and well-versed in discussing the benefits of preventive and aesthetic dentistry. Also, the doctor and the auxiliaries must share a practice vision and philosophy for patient care. That’s where dental professionals can make a difference. Expert dental coaches can analyze your dental office’s highest potential and create a custom, step-by-step plan that capitalizes on your practice vision and brings you more success than you thought possible.

Meanwhile, start with a morning team huddle to get your team on the same page, and if you don’t already, plan monthly team meetings to provide a time for collaboration and exploration of new ideas and systematic processes. This is where the right hand learns what the left hand needs to do, so to speak. Then, your team will have the ability to be in complete harmony… which leads to higher profitability. Taking time during team meetings to set the backdrop for a seamless day at the office creates added value to the patient services — and the team doesn’t feel dead at the end of the day.

Let’s not forget the value of dental team-to-patient teamwork. When the dental team takes time to review its patient communication skills and the team understands how to communicate the science behind the art of dentistry, patients see the opportunity (and importance of) optimal health. This is when it becomes a winning situation for the patient and the dental practice. See a trend here? If you can build a relationship where the patient looks to the hygienist as a trusted advisor, patients are more willing to agree to an optimal plan of care — which means better health for them. And remember: happy patients refer other patients to your office. It’s a win-win situation.

3. Move Beyond the Prophy
A critical item to discuss in your team meetings is changing your practice’s treatment approach paradigm. Many dental practices in this new era of preventive dentistry face challenges moving from the Prophy to treating the patient’s total health. Many dental hygienists today still feel pressure to complete the cleaning when, in fact, the most important service they can provide is education and a treatment plan to reverse the disease process.

Diagnosing and treating based on what insurance will cover or based on what the patient wants, instead of what the patient’s needs, helps neither your patient nor your practice.

So here’s another example that demonstrates the value of your dental hygiene department: When the hygienists regularly move beyond the Prophy, they add value to the patient’s services. Most patients see their dental hygienist more often than their physicians. And when you begin offering a variety of services, such as blood pressure screenings, oral cancer exams, fluoride treatments, xylitol products, periodontal exams, smile analyses, etc., you increase the value of your services — and your patients start to see amazing potential to improving their overall health just by visiting the dentist. Plus, many of these services incur a small fee, adding to the profits of the dental hygiene department.

Afraid you’ll scare your patients away if you go beyond the Prophy and present a treatment plan that’s in their best interest? You won’t, if you show patients you’re on their side. You can’t go wrong with stating the facts. Always present the scientific evidence to support your findings. Then, show patients their options, along with the risks and benefits of completing and not completing treatment. It is when you discuss the science and your expert knowledge of oral health that you add value to your services. The increase in profitability will come alongside when patients sit up, listen, and then take action to treat their disease.

4. Tap Into The Recare System Gold Mine

Remember that myth we busted at the beginning of this blog, that you don’t need to pack in extra patients each day to build profit? If you’re still wondering how this works, the answer is in your practice’s recare system — with your hygiene department at the helm.

Imagine the hygiene department as an energy cell and the recare systems the mitochondria of the dental practice. When a well-developed system is in place, your practice will experience increased profits.
The key is in pre-scheduling. That is, before the patient leaves the hygiene room, the hygienist or hygiene assistant schedules the patient’s next appointment. The hygiene department has the best auxiliary to schedule the next appointment because they intimately understand the patient’s needs and desires for the next appointment and the necessary procedure to schedule. This is your ticket to success: You must have close to 95% of your hygiene patients leave with their next appointments already scheduled. And you should know the barriers and patient objections which may occur ahead of time so you can plan accordingly in your team meetings.

For example, many times patients will not know what they are doing in two weeks, and especially they may not know their schedule in 4 or 6 months. So, the hygienist and the hygiene team need a plan of action to communicate with patients who may object to scheduling a next hygiene appointment.
Short on ideas? Try this: Take time during a team meeting to role play, and create a plan of action for various types of objections patients have toward scheduling a next appointment. Also, keep in mind that so many people these days carry smart phones and PDAs with their calendars, so a patient with a device like this can easily check his or her schedule and add to it instantly.

One dental practice our team of experts worked with originally had 75% of their hygiene patients leave the hygiene appointment without scheduling a next appointment. With help and guidance, the team has taken on a new attitude. Here is an example of a patient dialogue after the team changed the way it communicated and viewed the appointment schedule.

Kris (Hygiene Assistant): “Beth, I understand that you travel a lot, and I want to make certain that you return in three months for your regular maintenance appointment. Today, I found a few areas that are bleeding, and I am concerned that if you call us to schedule you next hygiene appointment, we won’t be able to accommodate your schedule. I want to suggest that you make your next hygiene appointment today so we can attempt to accommodate your busy travel schedule. If you find you can’t make this appointment, then you are welcome to call us a month before the appointment to reschedule. I know you prefer to come later in the day, and we have so many patients who want this time of day, that it is best for you to schedule this appointment today and only change if you find there is a conflict.”

Beth (Patient): “Mary, I understand what you are saying. I am a procrastinator, and I can see how waiting to make my next appointment can most likely create more problems in my mouth. I really do not like hearing my gums are bleeding, and I believe that I can rearrange any travel plans or change my work schedule so I don’t have to change this appointment. From what I heard today about my mouth, I really want to take better care of my teeth and gums. I never knew how important the gums are to my overall health.

Kris: “Beth, I am so happy that you understand how important your oral health is to your overall health. We can see you on Tuesday November 12th at 3:30pm. Will this time work for you?”
Beth: “I’m looking at my calendar, and I don’t see any conflict with this date or time so let’s schedule it!”
Notice how this type of communication between the patient and hygiene auxiliary allowed the patient to be in control. Beth felt involved in the process of scheduling her next appointment. Beth took responsibility for her health, and she was an active participant in the conversation.

This dental team also has changed to a blocked or tiered schedule which can better accommodate new patient appointments, alongside the preventive care appointments, periodontal maintenance appointments, and scaling and root planing appointments, etc. Not all patients are seen at the same interval of time, but the office can accommodate patients in a timely manner with this type of scheduling system.

5. Improve Cancellation Rates

Scheduling the recare appointment is only half the battle, though. The recare appointment is the most canceled and failed appointment on the dental schedule. And one cancellation per day in the hygiene department will lead to what is called a loss leader. This means a loss in the hygiene and doctor productivity. Many offices experience a cancellation and patient appointment failure rate of 25%. But this need not occur when you use the strategies we suggest. In fact, a realistic goal to set when following these suggestions is 95% or better in scheduling effectiveness.

Most important strategy: Have written guidelines for patients that explain what will occur when they cancel an appointment at the last minute or fail to be present for their scheduled appointment. Some practices post these in a visible place in the office, in addition to having new patients sign that they’ve read and understand the cancellation policies.

Just make sure you write your expectations using positive words. Check out our example below of guidelines written in a positive manner:

“We will always respect your time, and our team will make every effort to schedule appointments that accommodate the needs of all of our patients. In return, we ask that our patients make every effort to keep their reserved dental appointments. When a patient appointment is broken or an appointment is missed, it creates scheduling challenges for other patients as well as for our dental office.

Our dental office will charge a fee for cancellations and appointment failures without 72 hours notice. We understand that emergencies and personal situations do arise, so after a series of two failed or broken appointments outside of the 72 hour guideline, a charge will apply to your account before a next appointment is scheduled.”

Bottom line, when effective communication occurs between the patient and the dental team, a change in the patient’s attitude occurs, which translates into improved patient compliance. Consequently, the dental practice will see a reduction in cancellation and appointment failures.

6. Measure Your Success

Seeing the fruits of your labor is extremely important to continued success. Knowing exactly how much your numbers have improved each month can guide you to know where more potential remains. Not to mention, seeing your improvements is a huge morale booster — now you know that all your hard work is worth it!

Not sure how to track your progress? It is recommended that each month, the hygiene team or office administrator run and review (with doctor) a “Production Analysis Report”. This report will analyze all dental hygiene procedures each month to determine what percentage of production the appropriate hygiene department codes represent. And what better time to review this data, which tracks the hygiene department’s effectiveness, than during your monthly team meeting?

It’s exciting, actually. You’ll see that when you implement many of the assessments and procedures just described, you will experience at least a 30% increase in your hygiene department within the next six to nine months.

Services that may account for this increase in hygiene profits are fluoride treatments, (Utilizing the Evidence-based science from CAMBRA) sealants, antimicrobials, xylitol products, oral rinses, toothpastes, 5% sodium fluoride for at home use, and power toothbrushes.

Change Your Patient’s Paradigm, Too

A final word: The twenty-first century is a new era for dentistry, and particularly dental hygiene. Cleaning teeth is no longer the standard of care. In fact, we suggest removing this word from your dental practice terminology when talking with patients. Today’s dental teams must talk to their patients about prevention — and the dental hygiene appointment is actually a preventive care appointment.

If the patient has any level of disease, the time to treat is now! Take the classic example of a patient in the early stages of periodontal disease. Phase I of non-surgical periodontal treatment ends with the periodontal maintenance, which is a 4-6 week post-operative appointment to evaluate the disease state. The last appointment of Phase I non-surgical treatment is the first of regular periodontal maintenance appointments. The patient who does not have a healthy evaluation must return for more treatment in the Phase I level of treatment. In fact, this is the time where you may need to refer the patient to a periodontist.

If a patient is healthy at the final evaluation (The first periodontal maintenance appointment) then he or she will return consistently for the rest of his/her life every 3-4 months for periodontal maintenance. Periodically, a patient may have episodes where the disease state returns, and the hygienist will need to schedule the patient to return for scaling and root planing and even antimicrobial therapy.
All that said, you must communicate with all periodontal patients that periodontal disease is episodic and the idea that “once a periodontal patient, always a periondontal patient.” If the patient has a hard time taking the information seriously, explain that his/her situation is the same as when a patient is diagnosed with high blood pressure or diabetes.(And various other disease conditions.) The physician will always monitor the disease state even when everything seems to be “status-quo”.

Most successful dental businesses have implemented these systems. No longer will you hear that the Dental Hygiene Department is a “loss leader.” Expectations of the dental professional may be high, but remember you don’t have to take this path of success alone. Begin with these few guidelines to get on the path to where you want to be. And remember, we have many experts available to guide you along the road to success so don’t ever feel like you have to walk the path to success alone. Dream big, and happy planning as you embrace this new era of dentistry!

The Art of Continuing Care in Your Dental Practice

By: Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS

March 11, 2012

How do you currently communicate the importance of optimal oral health to your patients? When you understand how to communicate to your patients so they understand you will have happy and healthy patients. This means job security to the employees and increased revenue for the business owner. Preventive care and periodontal maintenance appointment scheduling need to be an important source of success for your dental practice.

Preventive care and periodontal maintenance appointment scheduling may be the most important source of success for your dental practice. But not every practice knows how to fully tap this goldmine. Filling your schedule with future dental hygiene appointments is an art that requires a daily system — and forming some new habits — but once learned, it’s a system that will make your dental hygiene department rock-solid.

Keep Your Schedule Rockin’ With Pre-Blocking

The most effective way to keep the hygiene schedule full is to, number one, pre-block it. This means blocking out specific timeframes in your schedule for specific kinds of visits. For example, how many hours each day do you need for new patient exams? Cosmetic procedures? Pediatric Patients? Prophys? (with and without x-rays). Include time to chart data if you don’t have an assistant, and remember to allow 10 minutes for breaking down the room, disinfecting, and setup. Best tip is to have another auxiliary available to do this simple, yet important task.

The goal of pre-blocking appointments is to keep the hygiene schedule full and to be productive — so that each day brings in the optimal amount of hygiene revenue. Holes in the schedule lead to a domino effect of patients not returning for maintenance care, and the dentist will see openings in the treatment schedule in the very near future.

Tip:Have the dental hygienist or hygiene assistant schedule future dental hygiene appointments. They are the auxiliary who understands the purpose of the next visit and how much time needs to be allotted for the patient’s next visit.

So, setting up a pre-blocked or tiered schedule is key, but that’s not your only step for successfully scheduling preventive care (Dental Hygiene) appointments. Now you need to make sure that ALL patients make an appointment for their next dental visit. What’s the point of pre-blocking the patient time if you don’t fill the appointment slots, with the correct type of patient treatment?

Postcards Only Get You So Far

Now the question is, how do you get those patients on the schedule for their next visit(s)? Many years ago, it was considered the standard of care to have a patient complete a postcard. This would be mailed to the patient when it was time to call in for their next hygiene appointment. Most dental offices have since discovered this method to not only be passive and impersonal, but fairly unsuccessful. Offices that use this type of recall system will lose about 60-70% of their current dental hygiene continuing care patients.

Offices that have patients call to reschedule appointments find many openings in their hygiene schedules. People are very busy in the 21st century, and they will put off calling their dental office if they have to call to schedule their future appointments. The good news is that technology in this 21st century allows people to manage their calendars from the palm of their hand. We can lock in appointments on our hand-held device and we even have pop-up reminders which occur months, days, and even minutes in advance.

Now all you have to do is get the dental appointments on the calendar. Your highest success rate occurs while the patient schedules their next appointment while they are the dental office and before he/she leaves the office. Better to have the patient walk away with a date and time than to hope that he/she calls the office for the next appointment.

It’s All in How You Ask

Are you using a call-in type of continuing care system? Usually a patient declines to schedule an appointment because he/she was asked a closed-ended question (where the answer is either yes or no). Take a look at these three different questions:

1) “Mr. Jones, would you like to schedule your next cleaning with me?”

2) “Mr. Jones, when you would like to schedule your next cleaning appointment?”

3) “Mr. Jones, I can see you on Wednesday July 6th or Thursday July 7th for your next continuing care appointment. Which day worksbest for you?

The first sentence is a closed-ended question. It allows the patient to say “No” very easily. The patient may forget to call back in 3 or 6 months.

The second question is better but still allows room for the patient to say “No” to an appointment. It also allows the patient to be in charge of the appointment book. You are the professional, and you are the one in charge of the schedule. You understand the patients’ needs and you know what is available on the office’ schedule.

The third question suggests, without question, that the patient will be coming back, and h/she already understands the importance of why he/she will be returning. There are no questions to be asked. The patient already has bought into his/her treatment plan and understands the importance of regular preventive care.

See what a huge difference a few tweaks in your wording can make? The significance of excellent verbal skills will help to implement a successful continuing care system and book your hygiene schedule months in advance!

Choose Your Words Wisely

There’s still more to say about the power of your words. When scheduling the hygiene appointment, avoid using words such as “cleaning” and “recall.” The perception among patients is that a “recall” appointment is not significant. After all, you are not “recalling” the patient. Have you heard of a recall on a car with a problem? This is nothing similar to what you are doing in your dental office. The dentist is not “recalling” the patient back into the practice to check whether they need a cleaning or tune-up. You are inviting patients back for preventive care.

Likewise, asking a patient to return for a “cleaning” is like asking to have your house cleaned — anyone can do it. This image runs counter to today’s hygienists, who are considered preventive care professionals and non-surgical periodontal therapists.  We need to add value to the dental hygiene appointment by using words such as preventive care appointment, continuing care, and periodontal maintenance. Nix the word cleaning.

Seal the Deal in Your Farewell

Every patient should be dismissed with a verbal reminder that there is another appointment, even if it is six months away. Create a perception of value and importance in the mind of the patient by saying something like, “Mrs. Smith, I look forward to seeing you in July, and I want to hear more about your daughter’s wedding. See you at your preventive care appointment December 6th, and I will recheck that one area I was concerned about on the lower left side.”

Try to ask the patient to come back at a time similar to the one he/she is currently scheduled for. Many people work best if they have consistent times for certain appointments. For example: dental, psychologist, chiropractic, etc. Also, some patients want afternoon dental appointments and some prefer them first thing in the morning. People also better remember their appointments when there is continuity and consistency. Tip: For younger patients always try to schedule before the noon time hour.

Of course, you will provide the patient with a written reminder with the next date written on a card along with Doctors name, hygienists name and all the important office information.

Try an Easier Way to Contact Stragglers

Even with excellent verbal skills and a well-oiled machine of utilizing a pre-blocked schedule, you will still have some unscheduled patients. You know the drill: Each month someone has the daunting task of running the continuing care report and calling patients who need to have an appointment. One lucky auxiliary is in charge of creating the list of overdue and patients who are due but not scheduled for their hygiene appointment. Then they spend numerous hours chasing down these people who have long forgotten about a dental appointment. And if they are thinking—“It’s only a cleaning” — Good Luck educating them NOW that this is an important appointment to schedule sooner than later!

Before any calls can be made, research has to be completed regarding when the last hygiene appointment occurred, the patient’s periodontal health, areas of concern, if there’s outstanding treatment, what insurance allows, what x-rays are needed, the length of the appointment needed, any outstanding balances, etc. All patient phone numbers must be called and messages left at each number. Maybe one in twenty patients will answer the phone, let alone schedule an appointment. This becomes monotonous and very time consuming.

The good news: Now, you understand the systematic approach of pre-appointing patients, which is much more efficient and productive. And that means a lot less patients to track down the hard way. But if you are stuck with making those calls, try this: Some offices have late evening schedules. Why? Statistics prove that it is easier to reach patients by phone between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 pm. Even if your office only stays open late once in a while, you can use this time to call the stragglers — and get a better response rate when you call later in the day. Some offices even have Saturday appointments. This is another great time to make these calls.

Never Say Never

Despite your best efforts, you’ll find a handful of patients who won’t immediately commit to a future dental hygiene appointment. Until those patients have a feeling of urgency to schedule or else, they may not change their behavior. Once patients understand the importance of preventing disease and understand that calling a week before they are due for their preventive care appointment can mean they have to wait for an appointment until they are a month overdue, they may never change their behavior. Urgency key to keeping your patient appointments scheduled in a timely manner! Once the patient understands how important their oral health is to their overall health, they are more likely to ask to schedule a next appointment.

Some patients may live in another country or state and don’t know when they’ll be back in the area. It is very valuable to recommend that these patients have another dental hygienist see them for their preventive care during the interim of their next visit to your area. This is just one more exception to this strategy for success.

But the above setbacks don’t have to keep you from being proactive. When patients do fall through the cracks, the best method to have them return is to call them on the phone. When the correct “continuing care” program is in place, the hygiene schedule will be full. This keeps the practice in touch with its patients and increases patient retention dramatically.

Bottom line, preventive care and periodontal maintenance appointments must be communicated in a manner that will allow patients to understand the importance of preventing disease. When patients understand that without good oral health they will not have good overall health they will listen and take action.

This approach will create a WIN for everyone!

How Can Pinterest Benefit Your Dental Practice?

By: Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS

March 7, 2012

In a recent poll in SmartBrief on Social Media —which  tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

When they asked just this week “Do you use Pinterest?”  This was the answer:

  • No, and we’re not considering it: 40.38%
  • Yes: 30.77%
  • No, but we’re considering it: 28.85%

As the social networks have matured and settled into their roles connecting with friends, (Facebook) Discovering what’s happening, (Twitter) meeting new people, (MyYearbook) Late to the party), and a new category of social applications, (Google+) entered the scene over the past year or two. These services, and soon to be known as social curation services, are here for us to provide unique ways of making the vast amount of information around us to be shared on the Web. These are tools which will create easy to find information, bookmark this information and read at your leisure.

Unless you have been locked up in a closet for the past year, you have probably heard of Pinterest.

According to the research by SmartBrief, Pinterest “recently emerged as one of the top 10 websites within the Social Networking & Forums category”. Pinterest currently has nearly 11 million total visits in a week (this is dating back to the end of December). For an invitation-only site that is only close to its second year in existence, this is amazing. In an additional study from Shareaholic is was reported that “Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google Plus, YouTube and LinkedIn combined.”

The data is pretty clear; Pinterest is rapidly growing in popularity and it’s great for referral traffic. For the 40% of you not considering it, I might suggest that you rethink that decision. As it seems with numbers like that, the hottest social media question of the day is, “How can you best take advantage of Pinterest for your business?”

You may ask who can I use this for promoting my dental practice?

Pinterest is a kind of visual/ inspiration bulletin board. Users, who currently must request an invitation to join Pinterest, create boards with categories like “Books I Love” or “Beautiful Places” or “Products That Save Me Time.” Users can then link images from websites (using a Pinterest browser bookmark) or upload images from their computers and “pin” the images to the boards. It is the same as using TWITTER where users can follow other users, and Pinterest images can be repinned and shared.

Imgagine the ways that you may be able to show off your beautiful office or cosmetic patient cases. You need to keep Pinterest on your social network radars. Pinterest may not be worth the time and effort for every dental practice right now, but it’s important to keep this site in your sights and to think outside the box about ways it could be leveraged to your business advantage.

Pinterest can be used to inspire or remind potential or current patients,  A picture of a the various areas of your dental office, new products and the results or information about them can be posted, while an image of a Cerec might remind you that you need such a tool for those cosmetic cases. Pinterest is  a unique opportunity for your brand to encourage current patients to check out aesthetic services to complete, or products you offer to purchase for themselves or a loved one; friend or family, for a birthday or holiday.

Do you see value in Pinterest for your dental practice? How are you using it, or how do you plan to use it? Please share your thoughts below or email me at: info@dentalpracticesolutions.com