Creating systems for hygiene success

July 1, 2009
M ost of us run our treatment rooms and hygiene departments on a handful of systems.

by Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS
[email protected]

Most of us run our treatment rooms and hygiene departments on a handful of systems. Between our goals for hygiene production, preappointing patients, increasing comprehensive treatment recommendations, referrals for recare or for our periodontal program, we have organized ourselves and our time.

If you ever doubt the importance of a well-documented system, imagine your panic the next time you are buckled into the seat in an airplane, hearing the pilot’s voice over the intercom say she has decided not to go through the preflight checklist because it’s outdated and not specific for the aircraft. As the plane rolls down the runway, she says instead, “We’ll just see what happens!”

Yet as important as hygiene systems are, most of the time they garner a yawn. Most of us don’t take advantage of what systems can do or the technology available to destress our clinical days, improve our hygiene productivity, and support our well-being.

What to systematize

Clinical hygiene is made up of dozens of similar repetitive tasks, large and small, in our daily routine that could be systematized. Ask questions such as these:

Where are your frustrations? This is an important gauge for two reasons. First, you are more likely to be frustrated if you are redoing tasks (i.e., handwriting recare cards) that bring no particular satisfaction. Second, you will be frustrated if you have to relearn a task or “re-create the wheel” every time a specific need comes up, a guest hygienist visits, or someone new is hired.

What is holding back your hygiene? What are the choke points? Do you need to increase recare retention? Do you want to increase conversion into your periodontal program? Do you schedule restorative treatment from the hygiene appointment but lose patients through poor follow-through, insurance hassles, and/or incorrect financial arrangements? Strategically focusing on hygiene as a business is more likely to spot high-value opportunities for systemization.

The first step in systematizing a process is to write it down. What exact process do you go through to enroll a patient in your periodontal or caries prevention program? If you are struggling to get all the steps down, try the “backwards” approach. Start with the end result and then determine what you did right before that, and so on, for each step.

Often, the documentation you create in this process is all the system you require. The next time the task comes up, you can pull out the file (written or computer generated) and save the relearning. It also becomes the core of the training manual for new hygienists, which is often one of the most valuable systems you can build.

What are the odds you will be doing this task again? How often?

Hygiene services may vary based on state practice acts, yet we have a 100% crossover in preventive therapies. Well-documented, step-by-step manuals/protocols are the core of many highly successful hygiene teams. Saying over lunch that we need to organize the hygiene department is easy; creating paper checklists or deciding on newer technology isn’t so easy. These partners can help you create successful systems:

  • Patient contact management systems: Smile Reminder (, Sesame (, Demand-Force (
  • Health risk assessments: Previsor® (, Vizilite (, CAMBRA Guidelines (Search for several relevant Web sites)
  • Periodontal therapies and lifestyle management: PerioProtect (, Biolase soft tissue laser (, Lares Research diode lasers (, Arestin (,
  • Social networking and CE conferences: Under One Roof,, RDH eVent

As you go through this analysis, don’t be afraid to ask: Why do we do this service/process in the first place? For every process you find that could be improved by technology or updated with a new product, you may find another that can be eliminated altogether. Clinically speaking, systematically reviewing your hygiene business may be the most valuable system of all.

About the Author

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS, is a clinician, industry consultant, international speaker and author. She is the Director of the RDH eVillage, an online PennWell Corp. e-newsletter, and is involved in numerous professional organizations. She has authored the book, Demystifying Smiles: Strategies for the Dental Team, and a Mosby’s Dental Hygiene: Concepts, Cases and Competencies.