A share in cooperative care

The purpose of today's column is to present two different ideas related to enhancing the cooperative care experience between general and periodontal practices

by Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

The purpose of today's column is to present two different ideas related to enhancing the cooperative care experience between general and periodontal practices. I'm guessing that the majority of you are employed as clinical hygienists in a general practice of dentistry. Those who practice in a periodontal setting will hopefully see the merit in what I'm proposing.

I'm in a general practice, and I cannot say that I know the periodontists with whom we share patients. My doctor does, of course, and he is confident in their surgical skills and expertise, and that's all good. The extent of my communication with said practices consists of my reading the letters that are sent to our office after our mutual patients' maintenance visits. I appreciate these, and to that end, I cannot help but wonder why it is that we in general practices do not send similar letters to the periodontal practice after we see the patient in our office.

In an ideal cooperative relationship, the general practice and the specialty practice have their respective expertise, yet they serve as "extensions" of each other. An alternating, cooperative, professional relationship deserves two-way correspondence. It makes sense to me that the periodontal practice would appreciate hearing how our mutual patient clinically presented at our maintenance visit. How were the probing depths? What was the overall tissue presentation? How was the patient doing with his or her home care? Was improvement noted after the discussion that took place at the periodontal practice three months prior?

What would you like the periodontal clinicians to note after seeing the patient? Surely there are sample prototype letters available, or you can design your own.

I realize this is yet one more thing for us to do, but I think it would improve the continuity of care to keep those maintenance lines of communication open. What do you think?

The second idea relates to what I said at the beginning of the article. I do not currently know the periodontists with whom my office shares patients. Do you? Some hygienists are employed by general practices that belong to study clubs, (the Seattle Study Club groups, for example), where periodontists provide continuing education offerings for general dentists and their teams. If your dentist shares patients with a periodontist like this and you have seen this individual at CE seminars, great. It would be appropriate to introduce yourself and have a conversation with the doctor. It's a real plus to have some familiarity with the specialist who treats your patients, as opposed to seeing only a name on letterhead in the patient's record.

Let's say that you don't have this option. Here's another idea for you. Consider asking the periodontist to whom your doctor refers if you might accompany your patient to implant surgery. If you can pull off the scheduling, this is a win/win. When I was a dental hygiene student at Fairleigh Dickinson University of Dentistry, we were rotated through specialty clinics and were able to observe a variety of different surgical procedures. Implants were not yet mainstream. So, unless we have worked in a periodontal practice, many of us have not seen this surgical procedure up close and personal. This is an excellent opportunity for a multitude of reasons.

Once you have observed implant surgery, you can converse from a different vantage point with your clients who are considering it. You will see the periodontist as he or she provides treatment, as well as see the setting in which he or she practices. This enables you to speak from the heart when you talk about this practitioner. This will increase the client's comfort level about visiting an office that you consider to be an extension of yours. Any periodontist of sound mind is going to leap at the opportunity to having you as a visitor.

Finally, accompanying your own patients to surgery as they leave the comfort of their homes or offices is a public relations gesture of the highest order. This is a win/win on all counts. You're observing and learning, and your patients will simply be delighted that you're there to hold their hands!

I encourage periodontal practice RDHs to be proactive about inviting your general practice colleagues in for observation. Knock that wall down between your two offices!

I am passionate about both of the ideas in this article because I believe that they serve to improve the cooperative care that we afford our mutual patients. Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core. RDH

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 eemorrisseyrdh@aol.com or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.

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