Reach out and touch

May 1, 2012
I’ve had some downtime lately in my office due to cancellations made on short notice or no-shows.

I’ve had some downtime lately in my office due to cancellations made on short notice or no-shows. My front desk administrator, Sharon, works like a maniac to keep the schedule full, but this economy has impacted many of us. Hopefully, this economic downturn is improving.

The feedback I hear from hygienists at my seminars is that more than a few are asked to punch out during periods where there are no patients scheduled. Thankfully, my employer has not asked that of me, nor would this single mom be amenable to the idea. I am going to fight to the nines to maintain my appointments.

So it’s time to be proactive. With my doctor’s approval, Sharon provided me with a list of patients who had not been in for recare visits since the close of 2010. I first pull the patient record in the hopes that I can make the conversation personal, and then place the call. The conversation (if a live response) may go like this:

“Hi, Susan, this is Eileen, your hygienist from Dr. Smith’s office. How are you? I am going through our records, and I haven’t seen you for your checkup since late 2010. I was concerned and wanted to follow up! I hope everything is OK?” The patient responds with anything ranging from reporting on a summary of life’s current miseries to where the time has flown to being guilty as charged.

I keep the conversation upbeat and positive. I tell them that I miss them and that I want them to stay healthy. I ask if I may schedule an appointment. More often than not, they proceed to do so.

My batting average for securing an appointment when I actually reach the person for a live chat is excellent. If it is voice mail, the stats are less impressive but still significant. In many cases, if I contact a personal cell phone number (and I am leaving a message), I will customize with any relevant clinical finding in the patient’s record. Examples might be areas we are monitoring such as recession, a food trap, or pocketing and inflammation.

My concerns that are expressed are heartfelt and sincere. An effective strategy would be to relay on the voice mail that you are going to call back in a few weeks if you do not receive a response. This is not nagging. We engage in “positive pestering” because we care. My only reluctance to delivering such a promise is not being available to walk that talk. When my schedule is full, I am always working. No follow-through = lost credibility.

I believe that when hygienists reach out to overdue clients, it can be very effective. How so? From a patient’s perspective, it’s a different voice from the administrative one that they are continually hearing and possibly tuning out. This is the clinician who has actually treated them. That’s personal, and may be a call to action. It’s worth trying!

I know a doctor who pays his dental hygienist her hygiene wage to stay late and to make these calls two evenings a month because she will reach people and get them scheduled. This wise dentist initiated the practice long before the economy tanked.

More than a few hygienists state that they have no intention of getting involved with recall telephone calls. If you think reaching out via Ma Bell is not your forte, consider trying it anyway. It can actually be fun. In fairness, sometimes our administrators do not want us to invade their domain. In the end, however, if we can fill a space that they have not been able to, it’s a win/win for the practice. Our amazing administrator Sharon totally gets it!

In a future column, we will explore other ways to reach patients who have stayed away. Onward we go; it’s in our hearts’ core.

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

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