Q: I’m a G.P. and have recently had two long term hygienists retire and now we are struggling to keep the new hygienists scheduled. The business personnel have always been able to keep the hygiene schedules pretty full but in the last few months we are experiencing many openings. Can you offer any suggestions to remedy this situation?
Dale Tucci explains;
A: Thanks for this question. I appreciate the stress this must be creating for you and the team members. A change in staff, especially clinicians can be difficult for the owner, team and most importantly the patients. The fact is that most dental offices experience some patient attrition whenever long standing health care providers retire or choose to leave. By developing a practice transition plan and executing it effectively you and your team should be able to prevent or lessen further attrition.
Firstly, I am going to assume you prepared your patients for this change in personnel by having the retiring hygienists train the new hygienists. Training would include but not be limited to: review of the hygiene standard of care protocols, practice philosophy, patient care, communication of oral health conditions, documentation, details of the doctor examination protocol, sterilization protocols and software skills. Taking these actions should improve the consistency of patient care, as well as the flow of information between the hygienist and dentist. However, if there was little or no training provided by the long term hygienists many patients simply may lack a sense of confidence in the new hires.
In either scenario, the newly hired hygienists require training to improve their relationships with patients to boost confidence. Emphasis should be placed on active listening skills with the patients and conveying the continuity of treatment philosophy. This may sound simple enough but unless verbal skills training is scheduled the communication in the treatment room may be clumsy or misdirected. Patients begin feeling at ease or not within the first few minutes of their initial meeting with the new hygienist.
As a practice owner you can take action. Detail the points of contact with patients then work through each scenario with the hygienists and business personnel. Start by developing with team how you wish confirmation of hygiene appointments to be completed and how to address questions from the patients about the new hygienist they will be seeing. If this call is handled well by the business personnel the patient will feel more comfortable. An example of this may be as follows: “Mrs. Smith, this is Jane calling from XYZ Dental to confirm your appointment with Susan on Tuesday, January 13th at 10 am. Patients who have been treated by Susan really like her. She is a very friendly and caring person with many years of experience.” A confirmation that states positives about the new team member will ease the patient’s concern or evoke questions they wish to ask. Too many times we hear poor communication around this, such as: “Mrs. Smith, this is Jane calling from XYZ Dental calling to confirm your hygiene appointment next Tuesday, January 13th at 10 am. I know you usually see Betty but she retired, so it is OK if you see Susan a new hygienist?” This communication allows the patient to answer with a “no” and raises a concern about scheduling with the new hygienist.
Next, ensure the hygienist goes out to the greeting area to escort the patient into the treatment room. This approach will illustrate a willingness on the new hire’s part to meet the patient as you would greet a guest in your home. Moving into the treatment room the hygienist could reassure the patient by saying a thorough review of the patient’s records has been completed with the dentist before the appointment. If the patient has
been under the care of the hygienist every three months then the new hygienist could say;” I can see how committed you are to your oral health. You have been a patient here for 5 years and have hygiene treatment every three months. I trust you and I will continue with this care.” This connection to the history with the patient in the practice as well as positive feedback about their commitment will build patient rapport and confidence.
The hygienist can also take customer comfort to a higher level. The hygienist could say to the patient; “Mr. Smith, your comfort throughout this appointment is important. When I tip the chair back please let me know if you would like a neck pillow. Also, as I begin your treatment please feel free to raise your left hand if you have a question or need a rinse.”
The hygienists are in a wonderful position to deliver excellent clinical care coupled with superb customer care. The combination of these is a winning formula.
A patient who has been under the care of one hygienist for many years can be nervous about seeing a new provider. Investing in the communication, customer service and clinical training are both necessary and wise. A patient who has a positive experience with a new provider will generally schedule again with this hygienist.