Can you transition into being a hygienist-implant coordinator in a high-tech surgical practice?

June 18, 2016
When teaching this profession to surgeons who want to develop a dental implant coordinator for their practice, one of the first things I emphasize is a list of skill sets, including many that a dental hygienist already has.

By Cindy Rothenberg, RDH

When teaching this profession to surgeons who want to develop a dental implant coordinator for their practice, one of the first things I emphasize is a list of skill sets. As we explore these attributes, it will start to become clear that a seasoned dental hygienist has most of the qualities necessary to excel in this up-and-coming profession. It will start to become crystal clear as I review the job description details.

The question is, "Why is this profession becoming so popular among implant surgeons?" In a softened economy, most health-care professionals, including dentists, are designing efficient workflow environments to increase production, maximize profits, and decrease stress. Implant surgeons have invested in 3-D technology (CBCT) for improved diagnostics, as well as treatment planning software, to calculate precision placement and to fabricate surgical guides. The increased amount of nonbillable IT work can be frustrating, and I believe that surgeons don't make money unless there is a scalpel in hand. That is how an empowered implant coordinator becomes a tremendous asset to the practice.

The transition into this role almost seems natural. In my implant coordinator course, I correlate a dental implant consultation to a dental hygiene visit by re-creating the scenario. When you arrive for a cleaning appointment, the hygienist will bring you into his or her operatory. The hygienist will make sure your medical history is up-to-date and encourage you to discuss any issues and ask any questions relevant to the visit. Discussions will continue throughout the appointment, which is designed to educate, not diagnose. The hygienist will take appropriate diagnostics and follow with a prophylaxis. Documentation is made of clinical findings and any patient concerns, which are then summarized for the dentist as he or she begins the exam.

This fact-finding mission-relayed to the dentist in an abridged version-is extremely efficient, and the patient is usually grateful for not having to repeat his or her entire story. Needless to say, so is the dentist. A dental implant consultation is not all that different in structure. The objective is to have all of the information ready for the surgeon so that a definitive diagnosis can be made. The additional component is the use of advanced technology, so a good working knowledge of computers and an aptitude for learning software are other important skill sets.

In addition to participating in the implant consultation, the coordinator will review insurance benefits and financial obligations. Following the consultation appointment, responsibilities include a carefully composed letter (e-mail), including images to the referring doctor, articulating the surgeon's findings, and a proposed treatment plan. They continue by following through with any preparations for surgical guides as well as sequencing details and chart documenting, so the appropriate appointment is made and the entire team can prepare for the day of surgery.

An additional responsibility of an implant coordinator includes marketing. Let's look at three areas in which the coordinator will be involved:

• Internal marketing: The opportunity to impress every patient, parent, or significant other presents itself every day. The knowledge, experience, and natural ability most hygienists have for discussing dentistry with people becomes a validation to the patient that he or she has chosen the right surgeon and the right office. I often feel that patients think high tech equals high quality. I recommend using the technology in front of your patient as an excellent way to instill trust and confidence, while the visuals aid in better understanding.

• Referral base marketing: Typically, general dentists entrust the specialist with their patients. The paradigm shift from multidisciplinary to interdisciplinary treatment presents increased opportunities to strengthen bonds and build alliances. An effective implant coordinator keeps all parties in the loop by sharing accurate information. Practices using CBCT and treatment-planning software can easily share images of simulate implant placement with the proximity to anatomical structures in actual patient data. Providing resources for continuing education plays an additional role in establishing the practice as a frontrunner in implant dentistry among their colleagues and the dental community at large.

• Social marketing: While social media marketing is a profession in and of itself, the core building block is content. Whether it be for a website, a blog, or building of a social persona on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, accurate and up-to-date content is what drives attention to the implant surgeon and to the practice. An empowered, educated dental hygienist can provide and monitor such content.

While training for this rewarding career in dentistry, keep in mind that this is a leadership role. Leaders take on tremendous responsibility and act as role models for dental auxiliaries. They are respected professionals held to a higher standard. I personally take great pride in practicing and teaching the role of the expanded function hygienist-implant coordinator.

For more information on dental implant coordinator courses, contact me at [email protected]. RDH

Skill Sets of the Implant Coordinator

Knowledge of dentistry-This is such an important attribute due to the versatility and multiple roles that modern-day dental implants play in restorative dentistry. Traditional options are being replaced or supported by dental implants. Single, multiple, and fully edentulous sites are being reconstructed with the use of titanium implants. That in-depth understanding of dentistry is almost a prerequisite for absorbing the complexity of challenging implant cases. Here are some attributes that an implant coordinator must possess:

Articulate-Excellent communication skills are paramount for educating patients across every discipline of dentistry. Most people, as intelligent as they may be, usually have a relatively low dental IQ. It is fear of the unknown that makes dental patients apprehensive to proceed with treatment. Hygienists don't sell dentistry; they educate patients so that they can make a decision that is in their own best interest.

Mature and compassionate-Dental implant placement is a surgical procedure. There's an old joke, originator unknown, that goes, "What is the definition of minor surgery? An operation performed on someone else." Teeth are body parts and losing one, a few, or all can be traumatic. Exceptional patient/customer service speaks volumes about the surgeon being represented and the experience that the patient can expect if treatment is accepted.

Confident leader-Once a definitive treatment plan is proposed, the implant coordinator begins the process of putting the wheels in motion, internally and across the interdisciplinary team. This trusted professional can act as a liaison, handling questions, facilitating communication, and finalizing monetary arrangements.

Independent, self-motivated, and driven-An accomplished implant coordinator can drive growth and prosperity of the dental implant portion of a surgical practice. A sustained commitment to both continued learning and educating patients is an important role with great responsibility. It requires initiative, a quality most hygienists are passionate about and already take tremendous pride in.

Cindy Rothenberg, RDH, lectures nationally on dental implants, CBCT, communication skills, marketing, and treatment-planning software. Her "Dental Implant Awareness Campaign" develops expanded function implant coordinators, empowered hygienists, and auxiliary personnel capable of driving exponential growth to implant practices. She has pioneered the use of practical applications of CBCT for interdisciplinary communication and marketing as initiator and managing director for 17 years of the Forum for Advanced Dental Studies, averaging 40-50 doctors monthly for AGD/FAGD and state board CE credits. Her vast knowledge of dentistry and computers has helped other speakers with writing and creating lectures and handouts.