Transferring the Trust Throughout the Dental Practice

Picture this: You are in a relay marathon and your team has a baton that has to be carried by each runner during their leg of the race, this baton, cannot be dropped during the race or the hand off. During the relay if the baton is dropped at any time the entire team is disqualified from the race. The rules of the race, it doesn’t matter how hard you practiced, how good a single team member is or how fast the team is… you lose… “Game Over.”

It is unfortunate to drop the baton, and everyone in the race is disqualified because of one mistake. The skills, talent and love for the game cannot keep you in the game, but your team’s talents plus your team’s precision to hand off the baton can win the entire race.

That very scenario happens in dental practices everywhere and to think of how many patients are seen each day that become a victim of the team’s dropped baton. Team members are participating in the race, but constantly dropping the baton and disqualifying the team. The practice has the right look, the best technology, materials and education, but the individual players are missing the mark in communication and dropping the baton.  The baton you’re likely dropping isn’t in a relay race; it is your communication transfers that happen in front of your patients and often in the hallway behind the patient. (Key information is being lost in translation and patients walk away without committing to their own care.)

In order to correct the course, we must first understand that with dental practices popping up on every corner in all sizes; everything matters. Patients are paying attention every dollar they spend. It is time to be realistic:  The average patient does not know the difference between the type of crown you do and the one provided down the street for $300.00 less, but what they do remember is how they felt and if they felt understood. You have invested marketing dollars to get the patient into the office, but then your team does not have the skill set to help that patient understand their needed treatment or what the consequences of waiting or refusing treatment would be for them.

The quality of your team’s communication will equal to the quality of the results achieved. It is not the clinical skill that drives patients to your practice or allows them to say yes to treatment. It is the communication of your skills to the patient. Each and every team member is a reflection of the doctor. Their communication and their behavior is a reflection of the doctor’s skills and likability. That is why it is so important to train your team members to be like-minded and believe in the type of care you provide.

If you know that communication with patients regarding their treatment has a direct impact on the number of patients who commit to dental care in the practice, then increasing the team’s communication skills is an absolute priority. This means, it is imperative that you use body language and terminology that the patients will understand (layman’s terms, not dental terminology) and that clearly communicate the need for treatment as well as the damages that will occur by waiting.

An effective patient hand-off is a completely structured transfer of information between two team members in the presence of the patient.  The most common hand-offs are:

  • Hygienist or assistant to the doctor
  • Hygienist or assistant to the administrative team
  • Administrative team to the hygienist or assistant

A structured patient hand-off would include: Who the person is as well as some personal information about them. What have you and the patient accomplished up to this point in their appointment as well as what is needed by the next person in this care process.

Example: Hygienist hand-off to the doctor:

  • Who the patient in the chair is and some background on them
  • Risk assessments (medical conditions and changes, current medications and blood pressure)
  • Screenings completed to this point (photos, x-rays, occlusal and restorative screening, periodontal readings)
  • Patient’s concerns
  • Possible treatment discussed with patient
  • Patient’s desires
  • What is needed from the doctor (i.e. an exam, diagnosis and prescription for care.)

Why are effective patient hand-off’s critical? The patients never have to repeat themselves, we are providing the opportunity to reinforce each other’s communication, rather than repeat it. The patient hand-off also allows us to clarify the patient’s next step in treatment, as well as be informed of fees or discounts have been quoted. Often important information is shared in the room with the patient and it isn’t passed on to the administrative team and confusion occurs immediately which creates distrust and leaves the patient with more questions than answers. This results in the treatment not being accepted.

Things that are important to remember with handing off information in front of the patient is: proper utilization of personal space, proper eye contact with team members and the patient, stating team member’s name and giving affirmation to their abilities. Data transferred (continue to deepen the patient’s concerns about their dental problems). It is very difficult to sell a crown if a patient is not sold on their problem.

As you can see, patient hand-offs are simple but often forgotten; all members of the team are clearly communicating the patient’s needs and desires to one another, and the communication is clearly passed from the start to the finish of the appointment. The most important thing is that your patient will finally have the information they need to commit to the care your office provides  This kind type of increased communication will not happen without total team effort, on-going practice, and course corrections as needed.

Patient hand-offs are transfers of trust that impact patients, in-office communication and increased case acceptance.. When you implement what most offices fall short on you will find a wealth of opportunities within your dental practice. For more information about patient hand-off’s email or contact us.