Taking charge of change

Oct. 1, 2009
by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH
[email protected]

One of my really big pet peeves is when dental hygienists say there can be no change in their dental practice. This kind of response is typically based in fear, feeling powerless, or a genuine lack of interest in doing anything different. Let’s come back to those thoughts and focus now on ways to identify the need for change and how to implement new ideas, products, or procedures.

While some people relish change and thrive on a new challenge, many people are content with doing the same thing over and over simply because it is easier. A quality change takes a lot of energy. First, is the change necessary? You may think it is, but do others? If the change involves others and they do not support change, then the process will be difficult and may result in a very negative outcome.

A critical step in creating change that involves others is figuring out where each person is coming from; in other words, taking note of what drives each person. Dental hygienists are experts at this activity. We practice these skills with every patient as we determine how to move them down the path toward health.

Let’s go through a real world example. You’ve been reading about the merits of fluoride varnish. You know the ADA wrote a position paper in 2006 that identified varnish as the standard of care, and you’ve attended hands-on courses that demonstrated how easy varnish is to apply. You’re ready to go but others in the office don’t share your enthusiasm for something new. They’re perfectly content to continue using one-minute fluoride rinses or brushing on fluoride foam at the end of an appointment. If you insist on an immediate change without some preparation, the plan will be hard to implement. Most hygienists really want to do what is best for patients, and many of us get frustrated when our ideas are not taken seriously or are ignored. Successful change occurs when those involved have something to gain.

For example, a successful fluoride varnish program can improve the bottom line if more patients choose this treatment. It can also save time. Imagine what you can do with an extra few minutes per appointment. The benefits to the tooth are well known — a higher fluoride uptake for a longer period of time. Varnish virtually eliminates the possibility of posttreatment vomiting, and most patients don’t find the taste and texture objectionable.

Why wouldn’t everyone in the office jump at the chance to convert to varnish? First of all, it’s something new and there are people who are perfectly content with no change. In their opinion, you’re rocking the boat. This is a perfect time to schedule a lunch ’n’ learn or attend a course. Attending a course is much easier with the advent of Internet-based educational modules.

If these ideas don’t work, why not create your own lunch ’n’ learn or breakfast meeting? Most companies that make varnish, or any product for that matter, are eager to provide technical support and samples. They can also provide technical and scientific information. If you choose this approach, find a time that is convenient for everyone, make sure you know all of the pluses and minuses of the product or procedure, know an appropriate fee range, and know the correct CDT codes for third-party reimbursement. It’s also a good idea to provide examples of dialogue that staff can use to introduce the new product or procedure to patients. Patient acceptance will increase dramatically when they hear they will gain something, rather than feeling someone is “selling” a product or procedure.

Even though this discussion focused on implementing fluoride varnish, the steps are applicable for many other types of change. Taking charge of change is the perfect antidote to overcoming fear or a feeling powerlessness. In fact, taking charge of change can be the foundation for your new comfort zone.

Abraham Maslow said it perfectly: “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”

About the Author

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, is the senior consulting editor for RDH magazine. She is an international speaker who has published numerous articles and authored several textbook chapters. Her popular programs include ergonomics, patient comfort, burnout, and advanced diagnostics and therapeutics. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award, Anne is an ADHA member and has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971. You can reach her at [email protected] or (832) 971-4540, and her Web site is www.anneguignon.com.