DENTAL PRACTICE ARTICLES
What to Do with Downtime in the Hygiene Schedule
Dental hygienists have a strong relationship with your patients and although there is an abundance of hygienists who are looking for jobs, it is important that dentists don’t take for granted the value of the patient- hygienist relationship. In most cases, the patients will see the hygienist more often than they see the dentist and for a longer period of time. There is more time to develop a relationship and patients become loyal to their hygienist based on trust. This is the type of relationship that you want your hygiene team to develop and maintain.
Some dentists pay their hygienists for their downtime and some don’t. Dental hygienists, like all employees, have financial obligations, like mortgages and living expenses, and they require a predictable and dependable income. The doctors who don’t pay anything for downtime can be assured that the hygienist is likely spending her downtime looking for another job or thinking about how to set up her own dental hygiene clinic and be her own boss.
Imagine if hygienists do set up their own independent practices, dentists could see 30% of their revenue walking out the door. In addition to this, studies show that 65% of restorative work is generated from the hygiene department. There is nothing that would stop an independent hygienist from opening a practice one block away, and although she would be restricted from directly soliciting patients, it wouldn’t take long for patients to find her. You may be able to replace the hygienist, but how do you replace the patients that could follow her? Think about how much time and money that would have to be invested into marketing and advertising to rebuild from the patients that you lost. Losing customers is economic suicide because you would also lost any potential referrals .
If a patient cancels in the middle of a day, there is very little that a hygienist can do to prevent that from happening or controlling it. It is not fair for the hygienist to have to suffer financial loss because she cannot control the behaviour of the patient. This does not, however, mean that you need to pay an employee to do nothing during the downtime. There are a lot of activities that can keep her busy.
Start by implementing a hygiene downtime policy and provide your hygienists with the tools to get the job done. The policy should provide one hour of grace time at full hygiene rate . Clinical rate may be paid up to a maximum of 1 hour of time in an 8-hour day where patients have short cancelled/schedule is not filled. This time is to be used productively, i.e. sharpening instruments, restocking operatories, making whitening trays, etc. If you there is more one full hour of downtime, the hygienist may be offered an administrative rate, such as half of their regular rate to assist in calling patients to schedule appointments or do administrative tasks as directed in order to be eligible to receive the compensation. If she does not wish to participate in administrative tasks, she may opt out of these duties and the downtime in excess of one hour would be unpaid. The administrative tasks would include calling patients on the continuing care list to make sure that the days are fully scheduled and confirmed. It is important to provide the hygienist with specific telephone skills to assist her with her calls. Remember that dental hygienists are trained in clinical skills and don’t usually learn telephone skills in school.
Here is some suggested verbiage:
“”Mrs. Smith, this is Sandie from Dr.Smith’s office. You are due for your dental hygiene appointment and I’m calling to schedule that for you. When you get this message, would you please call me back at ___________. I look forward to speaking with you. Have a great day. “
Prescheduling hygiene appointments in such a way that reduces the likelihood of short notice cancellations can help to avoid this problem. If you wish to receive a copy of Appointment Scheduling Policy and Procedure, please feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “appointment scheduling policy.”
It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep your hygiene team productive and happy. Give your hygienists the opportunity to build and maintain their own schedule and provide them with the time, tools, training and technology to get the job done.
Do not refer to a dental hygiene appointment as a ‘cleaning’. By referring to the appointment as a “cleaning” it minimizes the value of the therapeutic service that you provide and it becomes less important to your patients. As valuable members of your dental health care team, dental hygienists have a distinctive clinical and educational role to play in promoting good oral health for a lifetime. The relationship that your hygienist establishes and maintains with your patient is the foundation of a successful practice.
Author: Sandie Baillargeon