Your call...

Oct. 28, 2015
I recently received an email from a doctor with whom I'd done some consulting seven years ago.


I recently received an email from a doctor with whom I'd done some consulting seven years ago. We'd fallen out of contact, and he saw my profile on LinkedIn. He took the time to message me, and from our exchange came my idea for this column. I hope it is useful for your practice.

Dr. Herb Gutentag of Red Bank, N.J., is an endodontist who sees new patients regularly. I had recommended that he personally call any new patients one to two days before their appointment to say hello and welcome them. Dr. Gutentag said that the idea immediately resonated. He would leave his office with the new patients' phone numbers, and he would make the calls while driving home the evening before their first visit.

In many cases he reached the people, but if not he simply left a message. Either way, his calls made an impression. Patients facing the endodontic arena are often anxious about their upcoming appointment. Dr. Gutentag answered questions and provided reassurance to help curb their angst.

Here is an excerpt from his recent email: "Quite often I talk about your suggestion of calling new patients before their visits. I have since been doing this for years, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that pearl. Patients are so happy and pleasantly surprised when I call. I often learn so much, and the call definitely puts them at ease before they arrive."

He followed up with another email that I found particularly fascinating. "One more piece to this. We noticed that when I call patients the night before or two days before, we don't seem to have patients complain about the fees. They just pay it! So there's another advantage."

Dental hygienists, do your doctors contact new patients prior to their first visit? It's not something I see happening in many practices. I'm suggesting that you pass this pearl along to your employers, and if they resist, perhaps a Plan B might be an advantage.

Consider that many new patients come into offices through the hygiene department. (I'm not going to debate the wisdom of this, but I'll simply recognize that it happens often.) Let's assume your doctor prefers not to make the hospitality calls. If the dental hygiene department is the patient's first clinical experience in the practice, we as hygienists will spend a good deal of time with them. It might be very appropriate for us to make that "welcoming" call the evening prior. Will it be as effective as the doctor's call? Why not find out?

I informally surveyed 10 dental hygienists who work in practices that make confirmation calls only. In one such office where I had temped previously, I was told that the administrators in the practice are trained to make the patients feel comfortable during the initial phone call, and that confirmation calls are made via the front desk the day before. Discussion closed!

(Sidebar: Dr. Gutentag's administrators also confirm the appointment. His "reaching out" phone call is above and beyond, a gesture that demonstrates care and concern in advance.)

Opinions from the hygienists who were surveyed included the following:

• "We don't do it but it sounds like a good idea and I will suggest it!"

• "When I walk out the door of that office, I'm done. I'm not doing anything more on my own time."

• "I'm not using my cell phone to do that. Why would I want a stranger to have my phone number?"

• "I'm part-time. It won't work out because I alternate my days in the practice."

The remaining opinions echoed more of the same, and negative reactions exceeded the positive ones.

I appreciate the hygienist's concern regarding the privacy of her cell phone number, as well as the feelings of the RDH who wants to leave when her clinical work is completed. Yet I still believe the gesture remains too important to be overlooked.

In my opinion, a wise employer who chooses not to make these calls himself should consider paying the hygienist to make them, and then insist that they be made on the office phone. We're not talking about an inordinate number of calls. How many new patients are on the schedule? Yes, the kinks will need to be worked out, but this can only be positive for the practice.

Many hygienists complain about the tediousness of their limited clinical role. These calls are a small yet significant opportunity to become involved in the practice in a different way as an ambassador, to create a bond in advance with patients who will be in your chair tomorrow, and to be a part of the marketing and public relations aspect of your organization. Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core! RDH

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.