By Sharon Boyd, MA, RDH
Hygiene is the bread and butter of practically every dental practice, other than specialty clinics. Without careful oversight, however, a hygiene department can unknowingly become stagnant when it comes to annual revenues. With a strategic plan in place and careful internal monitoring, it’s possible to continue growing hygiene production on a monthly and annual basis. Here we share a few easy-to-implement changes that can boost dental hygiene productivity in your practice as well as overall patient and staff satisfaction.
Are New Patient Appointments Available?
How far out are you scheduling new patient hygiene appointments? If it’s more than a few weeks, it can be off-putting to prospective new patients. Consider adding one day of hygiene for each year your practice has been open. If that means bringing in a part-time hygienist to accommodate timely scheduling, the labor will pay for itself.
Don’t Forget Adjunctive Services
Utilizing downtime in a hygiene appointment—such as waiting on the dentist to step in for an exam—is an ideal moment to incorporate add-on services like impressing for bleaching trays and night guards. Not only does this immediately add to the day’s production levels, but it also shows that patient time is valued by preventing them from having to schedule additional appointments. Time is money, for patient and practitioner alike.
Make Sure the Correct Equipment is Used
There’s no faster way to slow down hygiene production (or cause injuries) than using dull scalers, leaky ultrasonics, or glitchy equipment. Investing in the proper tools to do a job will ensure that it’s performed correctly, but also in an efficient manner.
Consider how the incorporation of digital radiography transformed the traditional dental appointment. As many as 15-20 minutes were shaved off during hygiene visits. To top it off, patients were placed in a role where they could co-plan their care and feel more “in charge” of the treatment that they received.
Perform Time Studies
Average appointment lengths can vary when steps such as periodontal probing, FMX imaging, or an advanced oral cancer screening are being conducted. Not every patient needs every service. By completing a series of time studies over a week or so, it’s possible to pinpoint a practical timeframe for each hygiene code in the recall schedule. Scheduling can then be adjusted to maximize the time spent by the hygienist. No two hygienists, or dentists, are alike.
Adjust Your Fees
Routine review of a practice’s fees is essential for remaining productive in a competitive market. Fees also influence overhead costs, salaries, and future investments. If it’s uncertain how long it’s been since hygiene fees were adjusted for inflation—within appropriate insurance contractual allowances, of course—then it’s been too long. This change alone can significantly and immediately improve hygiene production.
Consider Advanced Oral Cancer Screenings
Using light-based oral cancer screening systems and similar advanced tools serves two purposes. Firstly, it goes further in protecting the health and lifespan of patients. Second, the service can be billed at a conservative fee and added to the hygiene appointment. Even if dental insurance benefits do not cover such a procedure, communicating the importance and advantages of such a service to the patient can help them to understand the investment a minor out-of-pocket charge will make in their quality of life.
Seal Molars During Hygiene Appointments
Rescheduling for dental sealants creates unnecessary downtime, room turnovers, and risk for no-shows. Placing sealants immediately at the time of hygiene services directly benefits the patient as well as production goals. If necessary, consider moving the patient to an overflow room to accommodate room turnover for the next recall patient.
Always Offer Fluoride, Desensitizing Treatments
Fluoride applications are a classic example of allowing insurance benefits to dictate patient care protocols. Fluoride isn’t just for kids anymore, yet most offices stop administering it once benefits shift to adult prophylaxis codes. Topical applications can assist in reversing demineralization and addressing concerns related to sensitivity. Explain why the patient will benefit from varnish or other treatment earlier in the appointment. After polishing, offer the fluoride and reemphasize how it will be beneficial to the patient. Just be sure to explain that it may not be covered by their insurance plan and that if the claim is rejected, let them know what the fee would be. Enjoying 3-6 months of diminished tooth sensitivity will be well worth the minor monetary investment.
Perfect Treatment Planning Communications
Helping patients understand the true value of dental treatment provides them with the tools they need to be educated about their overall health. Explaining everything from the etiology to the costs incurred—and which scenarios can be avoided—establishes trust and higher levels of knowledge. When a patient knows they can trust their caregiver or unspoken concerns related to anxiety and finances are automatically answered, it becomes simpler to move forward with recommended treatments. Although hygienists are not responsible for administering such services, they are the lifeline in patient communication and compliance.
Understand the Significance of Hygiene Production
Hygiene department production, as a general rule, helps to cover a majority of office-related operating expenses and staff salaries. When increased through moderate changes in the daily routine, production rates potentially allow for new equipment, new hires, and higher salaries for hygienists and other staff alike. But if certain ownership isn’t taken over the production, those opportunities may never have the chance to present themselves.
Author: Sharon Boyd, MA, RDH has over 20 years of experience in the dental industry and is the founder of DentaSpeak, LLC. In addition to being a registered hygienist, she serves as a full-time patient education professional, with special interests in strategic dental communications. She often works as a liaison between practitioners and patients, bridging the gap between care needs and patient concerns. In her spare time, Sharon enjoys long-distance running, triathlon, and volunteering at her family’s church.