The Center of Your Universe

July 1, 2005
Do you sense that your patients are at the center?

Do you sense that your patients are at the center?

The dental patient is, has, and always will be the center of our universe. There are many reasons for this. Registered dental hygienists are compassionate people who entered the field because of the patients and the services we strive to provide. If there were no patients, there would be no dental practices. Therefore, we must assure that these patients are well taken care of, educated, respected, and treated to the best of our clinical ability. Many dental patients do not necessarily want to visit us; therefore, it is up to us to create an atmosphere conducive to learning and sharing.

In order to create a relaxing atmosphere, we need to focus on changes we can make in our operatories to help them appeal to the five senses.

Sight How does your operatory look? Cleanliness is next to godliness. As for the overall look, request constructive criticism from another team member. Every dental hygienist spends hours in his or her operatory and can no longer be objective regarding its look. Is your operatory full of family photos? Perhaps one tasteful photo and a separate photo album for patients who are interested would be more pleasing to the eye. Is your operatory cluttered? Organize with racks for brochures and display only a few select dental products.

Smell Does your operatory smell clean? Candles burning during the holidays make the operatory feel more like home and helps to relax patients. Real estate agents have long suggested baking an apple pie during the showings of prospective properties. The “pie” smell creates a warm feeling. Be careful of the fragrances you choose so as not to irritate hypersensitive patients.

Touch Are you considered a compassionate hygienist? Treat your patients as you would like to be treated. Be gentle and take your time, but, most of all, be thorough. If you are under stress, try to focus on what you are doing and block out the stress. If a patient is causing you stress, excuse yourself and take a momentary break.

Hearing This is extremely important. If you have ever heard a tape recording of a dental office, you cannot help but notice the equipment noise. Patients hear everything, so all distractions should be curtailed. Team members should not engage in personal conversations while there is a patient in the chair. The front desk should take all calls for the dental hygienist. There should be no phone conversations while there is a patient in the chair. This is unprofessional and clearly communicates to the patient that he or she is not important.

Speech Communication is important for the dental hygienist. Communication starts the moment the hygienist opens the door to the reception area. It is critical to start the appointment off right by clearly putting the welcome tone in your voice. This welcome voice tells the patient you are happy to see them and evokes a “this is going to be a great hour” feeling. It is important to correctly pronounce the patient’s name, so write out the difficult names phonetically in the chart.

Dental hygienists are educators as well as clinical therapists; therefore, communication is essential to instructing patients. If you feel that your communication skills are not strong, consider becoming a member of Toastmasters International, which has helped millions of men and women become more confident with public speaking. Your confidence will enable you to have more productive interactions with patients.

It may be necessary to persuade patients to seek appropriate dental treatment. Remember to explain what you are going to do before you do it because patients are not mind readers. Eliminate the fear of the unknown with simple explanations.

If the dental hygienist can put a patient at ease and make the hygiene appointment relaxing, the patient will look forward to returning. The experience should be remembered as pleasant. An office will get many referrals from apprehensive patients who leave remembering a great experience. This is because apprehensive patients are the ones who will be most impressed with your efforts. Be prepared to give them a few of your business cards if you feel they were impressed with your services.

Yes, the dental patient is the center of our universe. It is our job to make sure that universe is peaceful, relaxing, and profitable.

Maggie Vivoda, RDH, MBA, is the CEO of Dental Concepts Consulting Services. She has been a registered dental hygienist for 26 years and is working toward a doctorate of management in organizational leadership. Ms. Vivoda can be reached at [email protected].

The Sixth Sense

Yes, there is a sixth sense, called common sense. Common sense involves all five senses. Pay attention to what the patient is saying, as well as what he or she is not saying through his or her body language. Learn to read between the lines. This is particularly helpful if your patient is apprehensive. As many dental hygienists who have been in the field for many years know, some patients will state they fear dental work, but many will simply come in with an attitude that appears rude. If you detect the dental appointment is not going well, simply ask the patient if there is anything you can do to make the visit more comfortable.

Here are a few additional suggestions for making your patients comfortable in your operatory:

• Dim the lights. Fluorescent lights can be cruel to the eyes. If there is natural light available, use your overhead lamp and see how relaxing this can be for both you and your patients. If you prefer to keep your fluorescent light on, give the patient sunglasses instead of clear goggles. This will give them a feeling of detachment from what you are doing and will help them relax.

• Play relaxing music. A nice, soothing jazz station can work wonders.

• Keep distractions to a minimum. Remember your patient is your focus, not your phone calls or chit-chat with team members. Request that the patient turn off his or her cellular phone. Ideally, there should be no reminders of the outside world in your operatory.

• Provide a pillow. Patients love a nice soft pillow under their heads. Wrapped in plastic, the pillow can provide a cushion for those patients with neck problems.

• Match your conversation to your operatory. If you are creating a relaxing atmosphere, be relaxed yourself. Keep your voice a little low and you will find by the end of the day, you are less stressed.

• Put your schedule aside when a patient is in need. You may have a patient who has experienced a death in the family or some other tragedy, and who simply needs to talk. This is the time to put that scaler aside. There is more to life than calculus. You will do your job and you will do it well, but first be a caring, compassionate dental hygienist.

• Prepare to have your patients fall asleep. With dimmed light, soft music, a trickling waterfall or a burning candle, your patients will reach a new level of relaxation.