In his best-selling book, Becoming Remarkable, author and CEO Fred Joyal cites research by his company, Futuredontics, that seating patients on-time has an enormous impact on whether a patient returns to the practice. Why is it, then, that so few practices take the steps necessary to be on-time?

I’ve previously shared the simple scheduling formula to facilitate on-time practice performance (time common procedures, use practice management software with ten-minute time units, allow an extra unit of time for difficult patients, and always keep an empty chair), but I’ve not discussed how the proper handling of hygiene patients can positively impact the schedule.

As dental students, we were advised that the doctor exam for the preventive care patient should always be performed after the hygienist had completed scaling and polishing. Although that’s certainly ideal and can work well in a small practice, it becomes a challenge as the practice grows. Once the doctor is responsible for checking more than one hygiene patient per hour while performing needed restorative services, it’s easy to fall behind. And, once the schedule falls apart, team stress levels rise, the lunch hour disappears, and everyone heads home well after closing time emotionally exhausted.

Five years into practice, I learned a valuable tip from my consultant friend, Linda Drevenstedt (Drevenstedt Consulting). She introduced the concept that the dental hygienist is “interruptable.” In other words, the doctor exam can be performed at any time during the patient’s hygiene appointment. The key is to use the proper verbal skills so that all patients feel their needs are being met.

Every clinician knows the difference between “captive” and “non-captive” time when providing restorative services. The doctor should take advantage of “non-captive” opportunities to excuse him or herself from the patient and spend quality time in hygiene. It’s so easy to say, “Good morning, Valerie! What a delight it is to see you today! So that we have the time I need with you for a quality exam, would it be okay if I take a look now? And, don’t worry if there’s still a little stain or debris. I know Cynthia’s not finished yet.”

What’s the patient going to say? “No?” I don’t think so, nor did I ever experience that. To the contrary, the patient always seemed appreciative.

In the end, the needs of the hygiene patient and the practice are met, and the hygienist can dismiss the patient when services are complete rather than being held “hostage” by the doctor’s schedule. Everyone wins.

If checking your hygiene patients causes your schedule to fall apart, discuss this concept in a team meeting. Practice verbal skills and obtain buy-in from your teammates. Introducing the concept of “interrupted hygiene” just might be the game-changer your practice needs to enhance the patient experience, reduce stress, and add joy to every day!


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Dr. Kerr

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