Inside Dentistry
Nov/Dec 2009
Volume 5, Issue 10

Communication Hand-offs™ in the Dental Practice

There is a proven way to go from average to excellent in case acceptance.

Penny Reed Limoli, BBA

Picture this: It’s the fourth quarter of the national championship football game, the score is tied, and your team’s quarterback fakes a pass, turns, and hands the ball to the running back. The running back has absolutely no idea where he is supposed to go, gets slammed by the opposing team’s defense, and fumbles the ball, which is promptly recovered by the opposing team and run in for a touchdown.

If you think it’s unfortunate to suddenly drop the ball when the heat is on, you’re right.

Missed plays like this one happen every day, but not just in sports. That very scenario is happening in dental practices all over the country right now, and if you’re not sure where we’re going with this…we’ll explain. The ball you’re likely dropping isn’t a football; it is your patient’s incomplete treatment.

First, we must understand that, in today’s economy, everything matters. Patients are more closely inspecting the value of every dollar they spend. Let’s face it: The average patient doesn’t know the difference between an amalgam and a composite, and most dental professionals have not helped their patients to understand why recommended treatment is so important. You’ve invested the hard work and marketing dollars to get the patient into the office, but then don’t have the focus and skill set to help that patient understand their needed treatment or the potential consequences of waiting.

The quality of your communication equals the quality of your results. It isn’t clinical skill that first drives patients to your practice or to say yes to treatment. It is the communication of your skills. Each and every team member is an extension of the doctor. Their behavior and communication is a reflection of the dentist’s skill and personality. That is why it is so important to surround yourself with like-minded team members who believe in the importance of dental care.

So if you know that the quality of communication with patients regarding their treatment has a direct impact on the number of patients who say yes, you must strive for excellence. In other words, you absolutely must use verbal language, body language, and terminology that your patient understands and that clearly communicates the need for treatment if you want to increase your case acceptance rates.

Where are Communication Hand-offs™ needed? Every place where the patient is being communicated with or whenever you are discussing the patient’s treatment in front of more than one team member. Communication Hand-offs™ begin when the patient goes from the administrative team to the clinical team. Next, the communication flows from the clinical assistant or hygienist to the doctor. Toward the end of the appointment there should be a hand-off conversation from the doctor back to the clinical assistant or hygienist and then from that team member to the administrative team.

One of the best ways to get more patients to commit to treatment is to use the Communication Hand-off™ system. Just as that quarterback hands the ball off to the running back, your team can use this method to make sure communication is carried through for each patient, from the time they’re seated until the time they leave with an appointment card in hand. Best of all, each team member knows exactly what he or she needs to do to move communication forward. Here is a three-phase example of exactly how our Communication Hand-off™ works.

  1. The administrative team makes eye contact and greets the patient by name. “Hello Mrs. Smith. It is great to see you today. Our clinical team will be with you shortly.” That administrative team member alerts the appropriate department, either by computer or verbally, that Mrs. Smith has arrived.
  2. The dental assistant or hygienist greets the patient by name, escorts them to the back, and seats the patient. While making eye contact, she says to the patient, “Mrs. Smith, your chart shows that we are doing a crown on the upper right, tooth No. 2, today and a tooth-colored filling on tooth No. 3. Do you have any questions before we get started?” The patient may have a question or two which the assistant readily answers, and then she makes the patient comfortable and applies a topical anesthetic. Now, when the doctor enters the operatory the assistant says, “Dr. Jones, I have everything ready for the crown prep on tooth No. 2 and the composite on tooth No. 3, and Mrs. Smith is ready to get started.” Then the doctor greets the patient, gives anesthesia, and returns in a few moments to begin the procedure.
  3. Once Mrs. Smith’s crown on tooth No. 2 and filling on tooth No. 3 are completed and the doctor is finishing his duties in the room, the assistant says, “Dr. Jones, I have noted in Mrs. Smith’s chart the crown prep on tooth No. 2 and the two surface composites on tooth No. 3. Are there any additional notes you would like for me to make?” She makes the appropriate notes and then says, “Dr. Jones, I show that the next treatment Mrs. Smith needs is to have the crown on tooth No. 2 seated and to prep the crown on tooth No. 28, on the lower right. Do you recommend that she has both of those procedures done at the same visit?” Dr. Jones replies, “Yes, we can definitely do both of those procedures at the same visit since they are on the same side.” The assistant says, “Mrs. Smith, would you like to get the crown prepped on tooth No. 28 at your next visit?” Mrs. Smith says, “Yes.” The assistant responds, “Let’s go see Susan and she can schedule that appointment for you and discuss your payment options.”
  4. The assistant escorts Mrs. Smith to the administrative area to talk with Susan, the financial coordinator. The assistant says, “Susan, we completed the crown prep on tooth No. 2 today and the tooth-colored filling on tooth No. 3 for Mrs. Smith. Dr. Jones would like to do the crown on tooth No. 28 at the same time we seat the crown on tooth No. 2 and that will need to be 3 to 4 weeks from now. Mrs. Smith, it was great working with you today, and I look forward to seeing you soon. Please let us know if you have any questions between now and your next visit.” Mrs. Smith says, “Thank you for everything.” The assistant replies, “You’re most welcome,” and then heads back to the clinical area.

As you can see, Communication Hand-offs™ are so simple; all team members are clearly communicating the patient’s needs to each other, and communication is seamlessly carried through from beginning to end. Most importantly, your patient finally has the information they need to make a true commitment to your recommended treatment plan. However, this kind of top-notch communication can’t happen without concerted effort, lots of practice, and continual coaching. So, call a huddle, start using Communication Hand-offs™ today, and enjoy a winning season.

Communication Hand-offs™ can make a tremendous impact on case acceptance. Implement what most offices overlook and not only improve customer service but also find the hidden profits in your practice. For a copy of The Reed Limoli Group’s Communication Hand-off™ report card, email resources@reedlimoli.com with the words “hand-off report card” in the subject line.

About the Author

Ms. Limoli is the president of The Reed Limoli Group, a dental coaching company located in Arlington, Tennessee. She can be reached at 888-877-5648 or clientservices@reedlimoli.com. Sign up for the free monthly Reed Limoli Group E-newsletter at www.reedlimoli.com.

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