5 Keys to a dental office dream day
Think about all the times during your workday when you feel like you are running on a treadmill and you are behind schedule. Can you feel the stress? Does this sound too familiar? To top it off, your patients are also unhappy waiting another 10-15 minutes for their scheduled appointments. Unfortunately, a typical dental office can get off schedule on a daily basis – and it only takes one late patient or challenging case to throw off the whole day.
Think a dysfunctional schedule is just is a fact of dental office life that you must face? Think again! You can keep your pedal to the medal and get everything done yet feel more like you’re breezing by on cruise control. Just follow these five timesaving tips!
1. Huddle Together Every Morning
A daily team meeting (“Team huddle”) is key to starting the day right, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. A morning team huddle takes 10-15 minutes tops and is a great way to strategize who will be where, in what room, and at what time. Use this huddle to pre-plan which patients that day will need a doctor’s exam and at what time the doctor can expect to visit the hygiene room. Also check if any patients that day need screening assessments so the dental hygienist can plan for documentation support or any other needs. The team huddle is also a great time to discuss any anticipated challenges with patients, necessary pre-meds for the day’s patients, tracking daily, weekly, monthly goals, etc., etc.
Never wait until the end of an appointment to alert the doctor of a necessary exam. Offices that neglect to plan their days, and especially those who fail to plan doctor’s exams, waste huge amounts of time.
2. Don’t Stretch the Schedule – Even for a Mr. Superman
Understand the exact treatment each patient needs, and don’t try to squeeze in more than the patient is scheduled for. For example, suppose a regular prophy patient is slightly overdue for his hygiene appointment. Today, this patient has an abnormal amount of supragingival calculus, hemorrhaging and stain. Instead of having the patient return for another hygiene appointment, you try to remove all the calculus and stain today. After all, Mr. Superman doesn’t have any other dental challenges and skipped his last six-month prophy, (Which, by the way, was scheduled ten months ago!) due to financial issues.
Creating excuses for “why” he missed his last appointment, will only add more stress to your time-crunched day. Why should you rush and stress because of Mr. Superman’s inability to understand the importance of regular preventive care? Yes, money is a concern but to treat this challenge now and provide optimal health the issue is not money but the patients’ overall health in years to come.
Tip: If you are spending more than 20 minutes scaling a patient’s teeth, you are providing more than a prophylaxis appointment.
The American Dental Association (ADA) and most countries’ dental billing codes clearly define a prophylaxis versus periodontal maintenance. Assess before you begin scaling, then communicate your findings to the patient. If you decide you need to change plans, sit the patient upright, and discuss the appropriate treatment for this appointment and what is necessary in the near future to prevent future disease.
Know the power of your language, too. If hygienists, the doctor and team use the word, “Cleaning,” instead of “Preventive Care” or even “Prophylaxis,” they decrease the value of the dental hygiene appointment – and that can make hygienists run late consistently. The next patient is left waiting for their appointment while you do your best to complete treatment on the overdue patient in your chair. AND What type of message are you giving the patient who is waiting 10-15 minutes into their scheduled appointment.
3. Let Videos Carry Part of Your Load
Creative and effective communication can be a great time saver – especially when you don’t have to do all the talking. Consider the time you take to educate your patients. You are constantly communicating about their oral health, care planning, home maintenance, and procedures they need and what they entail, etc. That process can be quite time-consuming. True, you can talk while you’re scaling, but multi-tasking will slow down your overall process, especially if you need visual aids.
A better way: When you leave the hygiene room or take a moment to document patient notes, this is a great time to play an educational video that explains information you need to discuss with the patient before she leaves. Every saved minute is precious.
If you have an iPAD in the office, check out an application called DDS GP. (http://ddsgp.com) DDS GP has a large index of videos to communicate with your patients about everything dental from Arestin® to extractions, invisalign® , and even something as simple as an x-ray.
4. Power Up Your Scaling
Think about using this rule of thumb to save time: work smarter not harder. Ultrasonics and Piezos offer a big advantage to dental professionals and patients in this regard. When you have a patient with excessive calculus or stain, these power scalers are great timesaving tools to include in your patient treatment armamentarium. They also disrupt bacteria’s cell walls, completely destroying them, while hand scaling only smears bacteria.
Timesaving power scalers will also drastically improve your ergonomic situation. Hand scaling takes longer, causing neck and back pain, as well as and carpal tunnel syndrome. Most dental hygienists see an average of eight patients a day, and if you can save just seven minutes of scaling per patient by power scaling, you have saved yourself almost one hour of strain on your body during a day in the office. Patients will also appreciate decreasing their time in the dental office.
If patients are wary of these power tools, rest assured that ultrasonics available today offer much more comfort than they did 20 years ago. Think about a smooth ride in a Lexus versus a rough ride in a Ford F350 truck. The new ultrasonics are easier to use, too.
Important: You don’t need to completely replace valuable hand scaling techniques; instead, use the 80/20 Rule. That is, power scale 80 percent of the time, and use curettes 20 percent of the time to complete the scaling procedures.
5. Give It All a Test Drive.
At your next monthly team meeting, gather all your time-saving ideas and do some roll-playing. For example, create a script and role-play the patient-doctor exam in the hygiene room. You want to practice sitting up a patient in the chair and explain the need for additional treatment. You want to practice turning on a video (how to do this so everyone understands how it works!) while leaving the room to document your treatment notes. Team meetings can also be a great time to role play treatment planning, communication (scripts) skills to get everyone on the same page, understanding how to overcome objections or challenges, etc. Use monthly team meetings for role playing various systems and services so everyone on your team is on the same page!
After practicing these, discuss the ups and downs you experienced during the role playing session, with the entire team. How long did these tasks take for you to complete? Did you face any unexpected challenges? Was everyone on the same page to ensure these timesaving efforts really worked? How much time did you save? Could you do better? Don’t apply these changes in the real treatment room until you’ve worked out the major kinks, but when your team is ready, take it live! Write down the answers to these questions and any others you may think of. Keep your scripts and these notes of the role playing experience for future reference and to provide new team members who come onboard. This will be a great learning tool in many ways, in years to come.
These are only a few suggestions to keep your day running smoothly and decrease the stress. You can probably think of even more. Understand, however, that saving time is not about diminishing the value of a dental appointment; it’s about using your time wisely. If you can save seven minutes scaling, for example, then you have found valuable time for patient education purposes. For practices where the hygiene department sees more than 8 patients a day, imagine the valuable time you will now have available for educating patients, providing same day services which all improve the patient experience and increase profits in the dental hygiene department.
As an efficient provider you understand that every minute a patient is in the dental chair counts. Using every second wisely will not only add value to your patient services, but your practice will profit as well.
Takeaway: If you plan collaborative, productive workdays, your patients receive optimal care, and you accomplish more in a seamless process. So, step off the treadmill, and leave the office knowing your day was “like a dream!”
For more information on benefits and usage of ultrasonic scalers see: Drisko CL, Cochran DL, Blieden T, Bouwsma OJ, Cohen RE, Damoulis P, Fine JB, Greenstein G, Hinrichs J, Somerman MJ, Iacono V, Genco RJ., Position paper: sonic and ultrasonic scalers in periodontics. Research, Science and Therapy Committee of the American Academy of Periodontology, 2000, [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]