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The Business of Dental Hygiene

by Deborah Dopson-Hartley, RDH

Is your hygiene department profitable? Is it doing what it should? Is it doing what it could?

Doctors, is it doing what you'd like it to be doing? Or is it just being allowed to do whatever? Do you know what your hygiene department produced last year?

Hygienists, front office staff, do you know what it produced last year? Last month? Last week? Yesterday? Per hour? Do you care what it produced? Doctors, I bet you care and I bet you wished they cared.

Last year I produced $263,338, averaging $22,000 per month, $5,500 per week, $1,088 per day, $143 per hour. Last month I produced $25,322 averaging $1,332 per day, $163.50 per hour.

Doctors, how involved are you in the workings of this department? Hygienists, how involved are you in the workings of your own department? Please allow me to introduce myscif-my name is Deborah Dopson-Hartley and I am, according to top consultants Dr. Ken James, Dr. Woody Oakes, Dr. Travis McFee, Dr. Howard Faffan, and Walter Hailey, the most profitable hygienist in the country today.

In fact, I've been one since 1990. Before that, for fourteen years, I was like most hygienists. I didn't know about production, nor did I care. But what I do know about is how to take care of people. How to get people to BELIEVE in me, like when I tell them they really do need the work done. I want them to TRUST me so when I show them my "before and after" cosmetics and tell them about their cosmetic needs, they know what they're going to get will be just as beautiful. And they must LIKE me because they keep coming back to me--and the best part is--they refer their families, friends, and co-workers to me. I call that a "BLT" because my patients know I truly care about them. And that's the "bottom line."

How do they know and understand how much I care? Easily, I've told them. I show them in action and words--EDUCATION. I've educated my patients about the value of a great cleaning and the importance of their maintenance appointments. I educate them about the value of great quality dentistry the entire time I'm working on them. I always begin by expecting my patients to be "uneducated" in dentistry. Unless we take the time to explain things to them, I mean really explain things, how would they know?

Years ago, I learned to scale and educate at the same time which I found to be both soothing and relaxing to my patients. This simple trick has saved me tons of time. Time I now use in a more profitable way. I'm able to see more patients per hour and still deliver the same quality care and explain the treatment needed in a shorter amount of time.

Now we all know the old saying, "Time is money" and in order to get the most out of the time a hygienist has with a patient, it's important to have a very focused agenda of what is to be accomplished in a very short amount of time.

The "accepted hygiene" program is structured in a very "traditional way." Now I'm all for tradition, but I try to confine it to my home and family--I do not believe that tradition has a place in business, especially if your desired goal is to bring about change and increase productivity. This is not to say the "traditional way" cannot be incorporated into a new plan. This plan is what I call "assisted hygiene." And that my friends, amounted to more than $350,000 in my doctor's production last year.

Now I've been tossing around these words "bottom line," so let me just clarify--what I am referring to is a BLACK bottom line for the hygiene department. I'm living proof that these numbers do not have to be RED. I am as much of a profit center as the dentist I work for.

In 1988, 1 started working for a businessman who happened to be a dentist. He has spent a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money training and educating me on the inner workings of the business of dentistry. I understand and have profited from capitalism in our free enterprise environment.

We share common goals as employers, managers, and workers--working together for the good of the business. Everyone must be involved with the business to keep the business healthy. Dr. Roger Levin states, "The key to profitability is the marriage between clinical skills, management, and marketing techniques."

Dental hygienists must support the entire practice. Being the only other producers in the office makes us valuable--not producing to our fullest potential is very expensive to the practice.

I increase the number of patients I see in a day. I increase the chances for sales. As I increase the number of touches and exposure to patients, I increase the chances to get other family members in. By increasing the number of patients through the door, I've increased the recall for the future-growth. By increasing the recall, I've increased the value of the practice.

We know the world of dentistry is constantly changing, and so must be the way the business is run. In our office, I manage the hygiene department. According to a 1991 issue of The Profitable Dentist, there are four reasons to delegate. If someone can do it better, faster, cheaper, or want to--let them, why not? It will help us to excel when stagnation and burnout often take their toll.

Have you ever had a great hygienist who quit no matter how you pleaded or begged? She hit burnout. It certainly happened to me. I quit in 1984 vowing to never return to dentistry again. I swore the next time I went back to work I would become a businesswoman. I wanted to have control over my destiny.

This is the reward that I've been given in the practice I now work. My doctor has set no boundaries. This is how I became the $500,000 employee and 'the most profitable hygienist in the country." By delegating this department to me, I understand my doctor views me more than just a team player; he views me as his business partner. Do you feel this way about your hygienist? Do you have a potential $500,000 employee just waiting to be taught and let loose?

So how do I do what I do? Stay tuned, there will be more in upcoming issues!


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