What steps can pediatric dental practices take to reduce the stress of short appointment times and quick patient turnaround for dental hygienists?
In 24 years of working in private practice, I have observed two business models: production-based and relationship-focused. Production-based models are driven by numbers, quotas, and metrics. These offices see a higher number of patients in much shorter appointment slots and turnover of patients and chairs is much quicker.
The relationship-focused models typically have longer appointment times, less crowded schedules, and a more relaxed office culture overall.
With that being said, both models can function efficiently. I believe that adequate staffing is the key to running an efficient schedule. Some offices have dedicated hygiene assistants who can chart and assist the dental hygienist. Some offices will also employ a sterilization coordinator who can help keep the team on schedule by turning the dental chair over and sterilizing all instruments.
I also find that longer appointment times allow for adequate time for the dental hygienist to see the patient, obtain necessary radiographs, perform a prophylaxis, apply fluoride, and have the dentist complete the examination and answer any questions the patient or parent may have—all without feeling rushed. Patients pay for our professional time and it’s our responsibility to give them that face time without the anxiety of running behind.
We have found great success by empowering our dental hygienists with the authority to dictate how much time is needed for their patients’ next recare appointments based on each patient’s individual needs. Adhering to a standard amount of time for EVERY patient doesn’t work well in pediatric dentistry.
Extra time is needed with some patients in order to thoroughly and accurately complete an appointment. Examples that can increase the need for additional time include but are not limited to:
- Poor hygiene
- Behavior management requirements
- Need to capture dental radiographs
- Addition of orthodontics
- Patients with special needs
Any time a team member feels pushed to see a high number of patients or the office consistently runs behind, it can create a less than desirable outcome for both patients and clinicians. Mistakes can be made, patients and parents feel rushed, questions don’t get answered, and the overall customer service opportunity is lost.
Our practice goal is to provide every patient with a positive experience. We understand how important it is to establish trust with both patients and parents. In my opinion, prioritizing adequate staffing as well as sufficient appointment length is key to a successful schedule and high job satisfaction for dental hygienists.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. February 2023; 21(2)46.