Sales, Bargains, Deals

June 1, 1997
It`s not quite that commercialized in the hygiene operatory. However, some hygienists find selling home care products directly to patients has some advantages.

It`s not quite that commercialized in the hygiene operatory. However, some hygienists find selling home care products directly to patients has some advantages.

Pamela Whaley, RDH, BA

Mrs. Jones is in the office for her three-month recare appointment. Her home care is virtually unchanged from previous visits, so you ask her about the powered toothbrush or oral irrigator that you recommended last time. Her apologetic response is, "Oh, I completely forgot. I remember looking for it after my last appointment. One store was out of them; one didn`t carry it; and then I just got busy. I guess I forgot all about it." Does this sound familiar?

Our goals are really very similar to our patients` goals. We want our patients to comply with our recommendations and, therefore, succeed. Our patients want a fast and convenient way to succeed and protect their dental investment. How can hygienists help achieve these goals? We can remove as many of the barriers to treatment success as possible. One of the biggest obstacles is availability of products and convenience for the patient. Providing our patients with quality products from the office removes this barrier.

A variety of options are available. Ads and commercials bombard patients, and they are confused. According to Advertising Age magazine, $800 million is spent by the oral care industry to make consumers aware of home remedies. Consumers spend $2.7 billion on over-the-counter solutions. Who do you want to advise your patients on this critical step of treatment - someone in another profession? Our obligation as dental professionals is to evaluate and examine items that will ensure optimal oral health for our patients. Since most products are hygiene-oriented, hygienists have the best opportunity to introduce them to the patient. We strive to provide the best care in the office, so why wouldn`t we extend this care to our patients` home care needs?

More offices are providing products directly to patients and realizing the tremendous benefits. Most practices that sell from the office are motivated primarily by patients` convenience and health benefits. Financial incentives to the practice are a secondary motivation, if at all.

For many, the change may be uncomfortable initially. Dr. Ronald Gold-stein, whose cosmetic practice is located in Atlanta, states in the January 1992 issue of JADA, "For a number of years, our office opposed dispensing cleaning devices ... By changing our approach and dispensing not only the necessary information, but also the rotary cleaning device, fluoride, and any other necessary aids, patient compliance increased fourfold."

To successfully introduce a product in the practice, you need to consider what types of products are best suited for your patients and advocate those products you believe in. Once high-quality products are chosen (backed by clinical research), try them yourself. Also, make sure the company services and supports you and your patients in regards to the product and its warranty. If appropriate, as with toothpaste or mouthrinses, for example, have it available for patient use in the office.

Michele O`Leary, RDH, of St. Louis, states, "The offices that I currently work in are happy to have products available such as the Rota-dent and fluorides that we recommend for our patients to use. As an office, you have to do the research and use the products you`re recommending - get a taste, feel, etc. We give our patients our honest opinion, and they trust in what we recommend and believe."

How do you get started once the decision is made? The first step is to decide how you will approach the promotion and sale of the products. Involve the whole team. Everyone in the office should be familiar with the product and, if appropriate, try it. All team members have a role in the patient`s success, and they should be able to knowledgeably discuss the benefits and instructions to the patients.

When establishing a fee for the product, take into consideration not only your cost, but also patient education and instruction time, as well as how much profit you should clear. If you choose to make a profit, the additional income can be used for such things as reducing overhead, a continuing education fund, bonus incentives, or profit-sharing plans. You can either sell the product as a separate fee or incorporate the fee into the overall treatment plan.

Once a policy regarding home care aids is established, you may want to announce the new product in a newsletter. The article informs patients about the benefits and why you are now providing this additional service.

Many dental manufacturers and dealers provide brochures and product displays that are another great way of letting your patients know the product is available. Some companies offer additional in-office services and training materials to teach verbal skills for explaining the uses and benefits of each product. Since you will want to monitor your patients` progress with the products, some companies provide charts and tracking forms to make this easier.

Generally, you will want products to match your office philosophy, enabling you to customize presentations to your patients` specific needs - just as you would with any other treatment plan. By providing patient education and services along with the products, the patient appreciates the additional benefits that they would not get by purchasing the product at a retail outlet.

Bobbi Freyre, a dental patient in Phoenix, Ariz., was given a Rota-dent by her dental hygienist as part of her treatment. "My hygienist told me she wanted to be sure I had exactly what I needed to be successful with my home care program, and she even showed me how to use it! I have three teenagers, I work full time, and go to school part time, so it was very helpful to go home that day with everything I needed."

Kelly Reardon, RDH, of Florissant, Mo., shares how she promotes Oxyfresh in her office. "We found Oxyfresh to be a product we liked and felt would be beneficial to our patients, so we made it available at the office. The response to the products has been very positive. We don`t need to pressure patients to buy it. We use it, we like it, and we have it here if they want it, too."

The benefit of providing this type of service to your patients is a win-win situation. First, your patients receive an enhanced level of care, and they perceive an increased value in your services. You reduce their confusion as to what is best for them. Busy patients appreciate the convenience of total dental health care through their trusted dental professionals. Secondly, the practice benefits from the distinction of establishing a reputation as a progressive, cutting-edge office. Keeping the patients` dental dollars in the practice not only increases revenue, but also bonds the patients to your practice. Patients who are happy with the "complete care" from the office will increase word of mouth referrals.

Dorothy Baumgartner, RDH, dispenses Pro-Dentx 1.1 Plus neutral sodium fluoride in a Florida practice. "We used to write prescriptions for our fluoride. Now that we have it available right in the office my patients thank me for both saving them a trip to the pharmacy and saving them money. What surprised me was how much of an impact the small profit on the sale of the fluoride increased my hygiene production."

What are the benefits to the team? It can build team spirit and provide self-satisfaction when patients achieve the highest level of success with treatment.

One of the most difficult aspects of our role as dental professionals is empowering our patients to comply with home care recommendations. They have difficulty understanding the importance we place on home care. When we send our patients home with a prescription or recommendation, they often don`t follow through with our instructions or directions, resulting in the continual decline of their oral health problems. If we continue on this same path, we raise the frustration level for our patients and ourselves. We must take a leadership role by designing a total package that makes it easy for patients to maintain quality dentistry. Not only is it our obligation to offer better and easier solutions to our patients, but it is the ethical solution to simplifying home care.

Pamela Whaley, RDH, BA, has been a practicing dental hygienist for 18 years. She received her bachelor`s degree in dental hygiene in 1982 from Webster University in Webster Groves, Mo. Ms. Whaley currently is a regional sales manager for Professional Dental Technologies while continuing to practice hygiene on a limited basis in St. Louis. Her background includes lecturing throughout the country on effective use of the intraoral camera, efficient utilization of practice management software, and implementation of a successful Soft Tissue Management® Program. She also works with offices as a private practice management consultant.