As dental hygienists we see ourselves as clinicians, educators, patient advocates, sometimes we might even feel like therapists, but there is one aspect of our role in the operatory many of us shy away from, the business of dentistry. Yes, dentistry is a medical service, and it exists to provide valuable care to its patients, but it also exists to produce a profit. Without profit, the business, and its valuable service to patients would cease to exist.
It is understandable hygienists find it distasteful to think about the business side of dentistry, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Many hygienists wrongly assume if they focus on the business aspects of their jobs, such as production or marketing, then they are somehow “selling out,” and doing so at their own moral expense. This does not have to be the case. In my experience, you can be a cheerleader for the business success of your practice and maintain your own ethical integrity in the process. In fact, a thriving practice can be beneficial for everyone, especially the patients and hygienists.
There are so many reasons for hygienists to concern themselves with the success of the practice they work for. Having hygienists who are proactively involved in the success of the business can not only have a positive impact on the practice but can also expand the hygienist’s professional horizons outside of the operatory. It can improve the dentist-hygienist relationship, which can lead to a happier work environment for everyone. Ultimately, it can lead to a more successful practice and improved patient care, which is something hygienists are most concerned with.
So, how can hygienists become more involved in the business of dentistry and constructively contribute to their practices? The opportunities abound once you start looking for them. To start, every hygienist should carry business cards with them. I frequently find myself unexpectedly in conversations with people who are looking for a great dental practice. I take pride in being able to recommend our practice to prospective new patients because I know they will receive excellent care and our practice will grow with the addition of new patients. It’s a win-win!
Another valuable way that hygienists can improve patient care, as well as the bottom line, is by initiating a periodontal program within the practice. This can be as simple as determining a periodontal treatment game plan with the doctor and organizing an office meeting to get everyone on board. Sometimes there is confusion regarding periodontal treatment protocols among the staff, and hygienists are the perfect dental team members to clarify the office protocols and get everyone on the same page. There are often a lot more periodontal treatment cases falling through the cracks than we realize, and having a clear-cut protocol ensures these patients receive the proper treatment, and the practice receives the proper compensation.
Hygienists have a unique relationship with their patients that is different than almost any other clinician-patient relationship. Patients often have a trusting bond with their hygienists that even the dentist may not have. For this reason, hygienists can make a huge impact on whether a patient accepts a treatment plan or not. Taking the time to explain a treatment recommendation to your patient and showing your support of the dentist’s recommendation can go a long way in convincing a patient to accept and follow through with their treatment plan.
Hygienists can also take the initiative to recommend proactive treatments they think will benefit their patients. Suggesting a whitening treatment before a big event, or discussing the cosmetic and health benefits of orthodontic alignment, are just some ways to boost office production, while enlightening patients about elective treatments they might find valuable.
Social media pages are another way for practices to increase their community visibility. By offering to run the practice’s social media accounts, hygienists can help attract new patients to the practice in an innovative new way. I run our office Facebook page and find it so rewarding when I hear a new patient found us on Facebook! It doesn’t take long to post a quick picture or some dental educational material on the page, and it really helps the practice to engage with its existing and prospective patients in a fun way.
It is so important for hygienists to be proud of their workplace and be confident they are a part of its success. The ideas listed above are just the tip of the iceberg, there are endless ways to jump in and get involved. By contributing to the success of the practices they work for, hygienists are also ensuring their own career stability and success in the process. Focusing on the business side of dentistry is not just about money, it’s about safeguarding the longevity of a thriving dental practice. This can provide a stable workplace for its employees and excellent dental care for its patients for years to come.