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Implanting a smooth process

Are you ready for your next role as implant coordinator?Dental implants

By Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH

With the ups and downs of the economy over the last few years, along with other contributing factors, many hygienists are seeking alternatives beyond clinical hygiene practice. Many enjoy dental hygiene and are passionate about dentistry in general while excited about the possibilities that implants can provide patients and the challenges of continuing to learn. How can one use the skills, knowledge, and passion for dentistry, implants, and dental hygiene to forge a new career path? One pathway involves becoming an implant coordinator.

The rapid growth of implant dentistry requires skills and knowledge that the hygienist appropriately understands and can communicate to patients. The many facets of implants can create challenges to understanding all the phases of treatment. The Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries (ADIA), a component of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists (ICOI), recognized the desire of some hygienists to move beyond clinical hygiene and developed the “Dental Hygienist as Implant Coordinator” program. Lynn Mortilla, RDH, ADIA executive director and ICOI director of operations, along with certified educators of ADIA (this author included) present the implant coordinator program to educate hygienists and team members on the opportunities that being an implant coordinator can bring to a practice and individual.

Upon participating in the implant coordinator program, participants will:

  • Explain implant treatment plans, procedures, and appointment sequencing
  • Present patients with implant fees and payment options
  • Practice excellent documentation
  • Understand essential components of implant consent forms
  • Review implant communications
  • Design an implant inventory control system
  • Discuss attracting new implant patients

The overall goal of the program is to provide dental hygienists with the basic skills and knowledge of implant dentistry so that he or she can assume the role of implant coordinator within a practice. The program is didactic in nature but audience participation and role-playing are incorporated throughout the program.

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What specifically does it take to be an effective implant coordinator? An implant coordinator takes the challenges that a practice faces, the lack of systems, planning, or education, and transforms these challenges to provide the patient and practice with opportunities to grow. However, an implant coordinator must also be able to balance the multiple demands at any given time. The program reviews communication skills that keep the practice patient centered while avoiding poor scheduling choices, reducing stress, and increasing referrals. These communication tools ultimately produce happy patients, happy teams, and happy doctors while increasing practice profitability.

Implant coordinators also must understand the entire implant process. Discussions regarding the history of implants, basic implant terminology, surgical and prosthetic requirements, dental and medical considerations, documentation, risk management, and patient financing are examined for participants of the program. On any given day, an implant coordinator may be asked to assist in patient selection and acceptance, perform referring office and patient communication, follow-up and relationship building, review treatment plans, appointment schedules and financial arrangements, develop practice systems and tracking forms, build community awareness and education, and provide overall practice marketing.

As a result of his or her educational background, a hygienist has the skills and knowledge to be able to perform many of these duties. Adding the role of implant coordinator to one's resume can provide the next level of lifelong learning for a hygienist. The ideal personality for the role is someone who has clinical knowledge, enjoys working with implants and implant patients, displays a confident personality, is comfortable quoting complete treatment fees, is confident in the doctor and team's abilities, can communicate with referring offices and/or labs effectively, and has excellent listening skills. If that describes you, the position of implant coordinator may be your next career move!

Speaking with several implant coordinators about their transition from clinical hygienist to implant coordinator, the common denominator in their interviews was that every day is different. With so many tasks to be accomplished and patients to educate, the role of implant coordinator means juggling a multitude of responsibilities at any one time. Time management is critical in the coordinator's position, along with the ability to prioritize duties.

As a hygienist, the implant coordinator can relate to the patient on a personal level often created from their clinical role within the practice. Being highly organized and detail-oriented with an understanding of the complete implant process are other components cited by several of the coordinators. Knowing the questions to ask a patient and when to listen and really hear the patient is another key component of successful implant coordinators. Being able to discuss large-case finances without judgment is critical; the coordinator has to be comfortable in knowing and discussing any fee or financial concern with patients.

Each practice that utilizes the skills of the implant coordinator will list responsibilities of the position in a variety of areas. The basic arenas that the role will entail will include the new patient/existing patient implant experience, treatment planning and consultation, education, and financial arrangements.

Since education is the hallmark of the dental hygienist's career, the educational component of an implant coordinator fits perfectly with the hygienist's background. The implant coordinator will often be called upon to create marketing campaigns for the practice including new-patient welcome packets, patient letters, and practice newsletters with the education of patients regarding the implant process as the focus. As the face of the practice to the local community, the implant coordinator can participate in local community events to improve practice visibility and implant knowledge. Additionally, the implant coordinator will serve as a follow-up contact for the patient, prior to, during, and after implant treatment. Having a go-to contact for the patient during the implant process helps solidify the patient's importance in the practice. The implant coordinator can:

  • Check to see how the patient is doing during the implant process
  • Inform/educate the patient regarding the next phase of treatment
  • Ask questions regarding barriers to proceeding
  • Assist the patient in overcoming treatment barriers including assisting with financial and insurance obstacles

Another component of the implant coordinator position involves assuring that the proper implant components are available, along with ensuring that effective lab and referral communications are in place. If the practice only participates in a portion of the implant process (surgery or restorative only), the implant coordinator is charged with making sure that coordination between offices is effective and efficient. Having the appropriate implant components available is essential for the process to be seamless. Working effectively with implant manufacturer sales representatives is important to the success of the implant process. Communicating with the lab as to the desired results is imperative -- the implant process is one that begins with the end in mind -- and knowing what type of prosthesis the patient requires and how that is to be achieved.

As in many areas of dental practice, communication is critical to the success of implant procedures, and the implant coordinator must have effective systems in place to communicate efficiently. The implant coordinator must also be comfortable in utilizing technology and understanding the practice management software, along with CAD/CAM and 3D imaging as appropriate.

With all of this information, are you excited about assuming a new role within your practice as implant coordinator? The implant coordinator position allows a hygienist to take on added responsibilities and assume a leadership role within the practice. True leadership, however, comes with tremendous responsibility. The first responsibility is to take ownership of one's own inspiration and greatness. Are you ready to take ownership of your career?  


Duties of implant coordinator

For the new patient or an existing patient who is interested in learning about implants, the implant coordinator participates in the process by:

  • Reviewing the patient's medical and dental history along with the determination of the patient's interest, reason, and concerns regarding implant treatment
  • Obtaining diagnostic models and imaging as appropriate and within the hygienist's scope of practice
  • Charting and presence during doctor/patient evaluation and interview
  • Scheduling
  • Follow up on treatment recommendations and referrals as appropriate

During the treatment planning and consultation process, the hygienist as implant coordinator will:

Review with doctor appropriate radiographs, diagnostic imaging, and models so as to have a thorough understanding of patient's needs including review and discussion of 3-D imaging

Assist in the preparation of the treatment plan in appropriate form, including digital or paper documentation

Determination of financial responsibilities of treatment including insurance benefits and patient financing options to be presented during the consultation appointment

Prepare consultation area with appropriate radiographs/imaging and other diagnostic materials and with all appropriate documentation readily accessible (financial, informed consent, etc.)

Be present during the doctor's presentation of proposed implant treatment to patient and interested stakeholders

Be available and knowledgeable to answer questions regarding clinical information after the doctor's clinical presentation (and the doctor has excused him- or herself from the consultation)

After clinical discussion and questions have been answered, discuss financial issues. Identifying the patient's objections and understanding ways to overcome them through verbal communication skills improves implant case acceptance.

ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie is collaborating with several authors on various books for dental hygiene and can be reached at amrdh@aol.com.

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