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Make the most of every visit

May 1, 2011
Give patients the keys to their success
Give patients the keys to their success

by Cindy Campbell, RDH

A hygienist can recommend necessary hygiene procedures for a patient, but if the patient does not agree to the procedure or follow through with the after care – both gauges of our success as hygienists – then we are not effectively educating the patient about our recommendation and why it is important to his or her health. It is vital for hygienists to break down their recommendations into terms patients can easily understand. This often helps stimulate discussion, and ensures that we provide enough details to give patients both the burden of and credit for their own oral health successes. It's not what the hygienist does, but what the patient does on a daily basis that ensures optimal oral health. In my experience, the most effective way hygienists can consistently coach their patients is through the use of patient education software.

Addressing the what and why

After almost 30 years as a hygienist, I have learned that achieving case acceptance has less to do with costs and more to do with a patient's understanding of how the prognosis affects his or her health. In the past, case acceptance was based on the patient's insurance coverage. Today, success is greater if the procedure is recommended with a strong focus on how the patient will benefit. Patient education software becomes an invaluable tool for the hygienist, because it gives the patient an opportunity to see a presentation specific to his or her needs. This gives patients a frame of reference to understand exactly what is happening and why, and then equips them with an educated voice to ask questions and seek clarification. Once these topics are covered, the patient's mindset switches from How am I going to pay for this procedure? to I need to have this procedure; now I need to figure out how I am going to cover the costs that are involved.

Maintaining consistency

Hygienists often address patient questions in procedural terms, without recognizing that the patient might not be familiar with our daily vocabulary. Using patient education presentations ensures that patients receive the necessary information in a consistent format, with terminology that is easy to understand. Our dental office uses CAESY patient education software (, which provides us with specific modules that target patients of all ages. Spanish modules are also available to translate the information for Spanish-speaking patients.

When I do a presentation, I sit next to the patient to make sure he or she completely comprehends the information. I do not hesitate to stop the presentation periodically to ask questions or provide clarification before proceeding. This helps me reassure patients that I support the recommendations and understand that the presentation is not a one-size-fits-all production. Talking through the presentations gives the explanations I offer additional credibility. It also demonstrates that our software is customized to fit our dental office's needs and is meant to provide added value to patients' visits.

Understanding what the patient understands

When patients first visit our dental practice, I try to assess what will give them the most value for their visit. Since I want them to be active participants in the process, I try to incorporate presentations into their visit as much as possible. Dental implant procedures provide a good example. The dentist in our practice specializes in cosmetic procedures, so we deal with implants on a regular basis. The CAESY presentation on implants always serves as a valuable resource. It is a means for me to show an animation of the process that is procedurally correct, yet avoids the bloody, graphic details that could potentially cause anxiety. By using the presentation, I am able to provide consistent, accurate information for all of my patients.

Our office's patient education software allows us to record the modules we show in the patients' charts. This documentation helps take legal ramifications such as the burden of disclosure off our dental office. You can never truly know what your patient understands, which is why I often show a patient the same module a second time later in the treatment plan to instill the information. Patients usually learn something new about the process each time they view it.

Icebreaker for children

The software we use has more than 250 clinical presentations that address different procedures and age groups, which helps us easily adapt the presentations to fit the specific needs of each patient. I regularly use presentations designed for children, especially with first-time visitors. These serve as icebreakers, which help open up a dialogue and lets me address anxiety. The presentations use friendly animals to tell children what they can expect at the dentist's office, which helps provide a cheerful, uplifting experience without sugarcoating the process. In addition, I can show previews of equipment such as the dental chair, X-ray machine, and the dental lights that are often intimidating to kids on their first visit. I can take the presentations to local classrooms to share with preschoolers, kindergartners, and third graders. Each age group seems to enjoy the presentations and take away valuable information from the experience.

On-hand Spanish translation

Having access to presentations in different languages is invaluable as patients can see firsthand how their needs are addressed. It also helps hygienists avoid the time, hassle, and frustration that often come with using interpreters.

I previously encountered a difficult patient case when I tried to explain a periodontal procedure to a 50-year-old Spanish-speaking man who was in need of extensive work. His wife wasn't fluent enough to translate the dental words into Spanish, which left the patient frustrated and anxious. Once I showed him the Spanish module from our patient education software, he began to understand the procedure and his anxieties disappeared.

Our office also has cases of children and adolescent patients who speak English but have Spanish-speaking parents. The software serves as a vital tool for everyone involved as we go over treatment plans. The Spanish modules make it easier for me to educate parents and children at the same time, so I don't have to use the child as the translator. They offer a way for me to confirm that accurate information is communicated consistently to everyone in the room.

Being responsible for patient success

Having a patient education program in your dental office is an invaluable asset. You can guarantee that you provide accurate information in a language every patient can understand. By incorporating the software into your patients' visits, you can assure that the information is up-to-date, simple to understand, and geared to benefit them. Today, more than ever, hygienists play a crucial role in educating their patients. Education software makes it easier for patients to understand recommended procedures and why they are essential for optimum oral health.

Cindy Campbell, RDH, earned her dental hygiene degree from Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., and is licensed in the states of Oregon and Washington. She has practiced clinical dental hygiene for 30 years. Cindy is married with two children and is the part owner in a family business.

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