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    The hygienist’s role in building relationships

    The relationship between patient and hygienist could be what keeps patients coming back to your dental practice.

    In modern dental practices, a well-trained hygienist can have the greatest influence on the strength, depth and continuity of relationships with patients. 

    It’s all a matter of time

    Unless patients have above-average needs for dental treatment, most of their time at your office will be spent with a hygienist. In an ideal relationship, visits will occur every six months and all but five or so minutes of chair time will be controlled by the hygienist. Although many different services must be performed during the appointment, all requiring high levels of attentiveness and concentration, the fact remains that two people—the patient and the hygienist—spend a considerable amount of time together. Therein lies the opportunity for establishing strong connections.

    More from the author: The biggest mistakes dentists make: Not providing adequate team training

    Communication: Some personal, some professional

    Building relationships with patients calls for a combination of rapport and trust.

    If patients don’t “like” the doctor and team, other practices have a much better chance of luring them away… especially because patients tend to assume that almost all dentists are virtually the same in terms of their professional skills. The hygienist can go a long way towards establishing a lasting personal connection with patients. By getting to know each other personally and finding common interests, the hygienist and patient can form a relationship that has value above and beyond the business at hand. Encouraging the exchange of more personal facts every time patients visit, hygienists can create durable bonds that increase patient satisfaction while assuring future production for the practice.

    On the other hand, the hygienist can communicate with patients casually—yet effectively—about your credentials, achievements in your field, capabilities as a dentist and caring attitude. In other words, she can lead patients to believe that all dentists are not the same… that you are truly excellent. She can “brag” about you in ways that you can’t without seeming egotistical.

    More from the author: How to fight stress in the dental practice with systems and training

    Buy-in, objectives and scripting

    To make it possible for your hygienist to play the relationship-building role well, three things must happen:

    1. The hygienist must buy in: Her job is already very demanding and her schedule may be tight, so you need to reassure her that she can do what’s needed and take on the added responsibility.
    2. Establish goals for her to achieve: Spell out what you’d like to happen—such as gathering and exchanging personal facts, gently reminding patients about unaccepted treatment, educating them not only about oral care but also services available at the practice, building confidence in your abilities, etc.
    3. Provide training with scripts to make it easier: Scripting can help anyone—even those with limited interpersonal skills—communicate more effectively. By creating scripts that hit the key points and using role-playing to familiarize your hygienist with them, you can ensure her success in meeting the objectives.

    The sustainability of your practice depends on your ability to build productive long-term relationships. Your hygienist has the potential for contributing significantly to this process.

    Would your practice benefit from consulting? Levin Group consulting programs—in management, marketing, or a combination of both—are based on our unique systems-targets-training methodology. They give teams the tools needed to excel. For more information, click here.

    Dr. Roger P. Levin
    Dr. Roger P. Levin is a third-generation general dentist and the chairman and chief executive officer of Levin Group, Inc., the largest ...

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