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Why Dental Hygienists Need at Least 60-Minute Recall Appointments

Articles, Practice Life

Do you feel like you have an overwhelming amount of patients needing to come into your office? Definitely, not a bad problem to have. If you have tried to schedule an appointment with a different healthcare provider in the last few years, you personally have experienced month-long waits.

Dentistry isn’t the only one where there aren’t enough providers for the patients. Most especially when it comes to dental hygienists, the easy thing to fit more patients into your practices might seem like shortening the recall visit appointments from 60 Minutes to 40 if the perfect solution to this problem. Even though this might look great on paper and you’re able to fit in one to two more patients a day, in actuality, it can cause more problems.

Here are a few reasons why the hygiene visit needs to be at least 60 minutes for not only the hygienist but your patients and your practice.

1. Hygiene Burnout. All healthcare providers are on the edge of burnout right now. We are overworked, patients are harder to work with, and life is just more stressful than it used to be. The last thing providers want, both dental hygienists and maybe even you, is an increased stress day than we already have. Shoving in a few extra patients a day definitely makes things more chaotic and increases the stress of your hygienist. With this increase in stress and less time to breathe between patients or even take a drink of water, the risk of burnout is so much higher. The last thing we need is hygienists feeling burnt out, quitting their careers, and patients not being seen for their preventative or periodontal health.

2. The Schedule Falling Behind. As mentioned previously, patients are harder than ever to work on. Have you noticed this in your own practice? Filling in extra patients potentially can make your schedule fall behind. Then, with a waiting room full of patients and feelings of frustration about being seen after their appointment time, they bring that stress into the operatory. It spreads throughout the entire staff. Of course, we as professionals should know how to manage that stress. However, it does get overwhelming when you are behind the entire day every day because appointments are not scheduled properly. Keep your patients in mind before shortening appointments to make sure they are being seen at the correct times. We know days get crazy, and being behind every so often is part of the healthcare life. Let’s schedule correctly to prevent it as much as we can.

3. Rapport.  When time is short, the most common thing that is dropped is rapport. I know for myself when I am out of time, I cut conversations short and get straight to biofilm removal. However, not creating that rapport can put a huge damper on continuing care appointments or needed treatment. Patients need to trust or feel like they trust their provider, and if we are not give that time for them to build trust decreases the chance of rescheduling for any needed treatment. If you, as the dentist, do not like building
rapport with the patients or are tired of chatting during the
day, let your dental hygienist have the time to get to know the patient and have them feel comfortable in your dental practice. Most hygienists love chatting with the patient, and it’s the best part of the day. It breaks up the monotony of scaling and polishing and creates a family environment in your office. Have you noticed that lots of patients come to your practice because of your dental hygienist? Don’t take away that personal feeling by cutting appointments short.

4. Time for Answering  Questions and Education. I have also noticed that as soon as the dentist walks out after an exam, the patient will turn to me and ask, “Now, what did
they just say?” RDHs help fill in the gaps, educate them on the treatment, tell them the different options, and listen to their concerns and questions. When time is cut short, we feel like we have to rush the patient out and let the front desk answer any questions, which sometimes might not be the best option, especially if they don’t have a clinical dental background. This education time spent with the hygienist will, in turn, increase your revenue more than seeing one or two more hygiene patients that day.

5. Proper documentation is dropped.  Do you notice yourself when you are short on time, your chart notes may not be up to snuff? Proper documentation is critical to keep everyone calibrated in the office. Not only does the hygiene team benefit from these notes, but the front office also does when the patient calls in with questions or has insurance questions, to the assistants who see the patients in a few weeks for other treatment.  Proper documentation is a vital part of what we do as professionals. Before switching up the schedule, definitely chat with your hygiene team. Change is hard, especially when it is thrown on you without being worked through. Maybe your team will be on board with it! But, in my experience, shortening appointments has never been a great strategy for increasing patient load or production.  What does the dental hygiene team at your office’s schedule look like?

 

About The Author:
Melia Lewis, MEd, BSDH, RDH With her love of health and education, Melia graduated as a dental hygienist in 2009.  Before jumping into dental hygiene school, she spent part of her childhood learning the finer things of dentistry in her father’s dental practice in Canada.  Since graduation, she’s worked in private practices in Canada and the US, as well as in education as an adjunct professor. She received her Master of Education degree in 2019. She is currently an adjunct professor at Utah Valley University and works clinically with patients to help their oral and overall health. She loves the field so much that she co-created Hygiene Edge, an education platform for dental professionals to learn new skills and techniques.

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