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Opening a window

April 1, 2004
Like many hygienists, Patti Clinger-DiGangi, RDH, BS, began her first dental job as a senior in high school at the local family dental practice. Because she had no other ideas, Patti chose nursing as her college major.

by Anne-Marie DePalma

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Like many hygienists, Patti Clinger-DiGangi, RDH, BS, began her first dental job as a senior in high school at the local family dental practice. Because she had no other ideas, Patti chose nursing as her college major. But the practice's hygienist and long-time mentor encouraged her to consider dental hygiene. It was a choice that pleased everyone in Patti's life — parents, friends, and boyfriend.

She entered the dental hygiene program at William Rainey Harper College and graduated in 1973. After passing her boards, Patti returned to the same dental practice, where she worked for nine years and formed many friendships.

Speaker background

There seemed to be a cut-off point, though, from what she had learned in school and what she did in practice. At 27, Patti decided enough was enough. It was time for a change. She began a personal and professional journey that continues to this day. She decided to leave the family practice and enter a high-tech practice (before high-tech was in!). With this change came a world of opportunities. The practice constantly sought continuing education programs, and Patti's addiction to learning began.

Several pivotal events occurred during one program she attended. First, Patti leaned over to a co-worker and said, "Isn't this guy great?" A few minutes later she leaned over again and said, "I wonder what I'm not hearing?" This was the "ah-ha!" moment when Patti realized that growth and learning are incremental. People hear the next message when they are ready to hear the next message.

The second event occurred when the speaker asked the crowd of 300 if anyone would like to do what he was doing. Patti's hand shot up immediately. She then realized her hand was the only one up. The speaker invited her up to the stage. She thought she would die of stage fright.

After that scary beginning, she has become a continuing education speaker. Patti enhanced her personal education by reading, continual CE, and a bachelor's degree in health care leadership.

She is currently working on her MBA with a certificate in educational management.

Her presentations are for anyone living their lives the way others think they should live it. She wants to open windows for others as windows were opened for her.

Seminar content

Patti has several programs, which include:
• Here and Now Records: Archive or Living History
• Understanding Insurance: What's New in CDT-4 and Why Every Hygienist Needs to Care
• Evidenced-Based Decision Making: Taking Control of the Information Explosion.

Each program has its own flavor, but each begins with three values. Before preparing a program, Patti asks herself "So what?" "Who cares?" and "What's in it for me?"

While these may seem a bit flippant, they are truly important in clarifying the values and decisions people make. We are constantly bombarded with information. How can we "weed" things out? Every person takes from a presentation what is important to him or her at that moment, even if it is only the CE credit.

Patti's programs are excellent for dental staff members who are interested in enhancing patient care as a service-oriented profession; are preventive oriented; want to encourage the professional differentiation of registered dental hygienists; want steps for greater professional success; want to learn life-saving information and easy to use systems; and want to be challenged, have fun, learn, and interact with other hygienists or team members.

Seminar style

During Patti's record-keeping program, she emphasizes that the dental or medical record is a living, breathing entity, not just a bunch of notes. It is part of every contact with patients during appointments. It is an aspect of care that is often glossed over, done as an after-thought, or performed so routinely that there is no meaning. In her course, participants learn concise methods of complete record keeping which satisfy the standard of care and beyond.

Patti became interested in record keeping after being selected to serve on a malpractice jury 18 years ago. The most dramatic exhibit was the physician's chart blown up to the same height as one of the lawyers. The poor documentation was clearly evident because there was a vast amount of white space where nothing was written or was illegible. Afterwards, Patti returned to the office and told her co-workers, "We must change our documentation!"

During her insurance program, Patti tells hygienists that insurance is not just for the business staff. Insurance is a marketplace reality that influences the practice of dentistry. Hygienists often feel "at war" with the business staff, and the practice is often "at war" with the insurance companies. But it doesn't have to be this way. This program helps hygienists understand the new codes. Those that most affect a practicing hygienist are the examination codes, the preventive codes, the periodontal codes, and the adjunctive codes. The use of effective documentation that can facilitate benefits is also explained.

Patti's evidence-based program centers on the fact that information overload is a growing problem for dental practitioners and their patients. Practitioners are expected to digest new clinical data from hundreds of studies each year. This program provides for a systematic method of analyzing information. By identifying quality research, participants can make informed decisions regarding all clinical aspects of practice.

Throughout her programs, Patti provides handouts with significant program slides and space for notes. Realizing that hygienists are hands-on people who learn a lot from each other, Patti incorporates interactive application exercises. She feels that CE should be more than just "fanny time" in the chair. The real power of CE comes from the participant assimilating the ideas into his or her own thinking, then becoming a core force in the daily practice of dental hygiene.

Patti has opened numerous "windows" for herself within dental hygiene. Her programs and enthusiasm reflect that vision. To open "windows" for yourself, contact her at [email protected] or phone 630-292-1473.

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, BS is a practicing hygienist in a periodontal-implant practice.She is a graduate of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists, is active in the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists' Association, and is a Fellow of the Association of Dental Implant Auxilliaries and Practice Management.Ann-Marie has written articles and presents programs on dental implants, TMD, and developmental delays and can be reached at [email protected].