Podcast: Lisa Norton on how dental hygienists can improve efficiency and effectiveness

Hello and welcome to Ascent Dental Radio. A program dedicated to the balance between the clinical aspect of health care and the business of health care. And now here is your host, Dr. Kevin Coughlin.

Kevin: This is Dr. Kevin Coughlin. You’re listening to Ascent Dental Solutions. This radio podcast is brought to you by VOCO Dental Supplies. As usual, we’re here to talk about different areas of the dental profession and today, I have a special guest. Her name is Ms. Lisa Norton. She represents VOCO Company, but she has a unique background. She graduated from Albany State University in New York and then went on and pursued dental education in dental hygiene at Forsyth University.

She practiced dental hygiene for many years and then for a variety of different reasons, got into the consulting business. And as all of us know in the field of dentistry, there is no more difficult department to manage and improve upon than the dental hygiene department.

All of our dental individuals struggle with some of these issues and we hope that with Lisa’s expertise and the background of her exceptional company, she’s going to offer values to today’s podcast.

Lisa, thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. We’re excited to have you here. If you were to tell us over the years of experience as a dental hygienist and a consultant for VOCO, what would you say are the top problems in most dental hygiene departments?

Lisa: I think hygienists are faced with multiple time constraints. There is a lot of expectation from the dentist that they’re going to be able to take radiographs, treat the patient, educate the patient, reschedule them, treatment plan for them in a very short period of time.

One thing that I feel helps to increase efficiency in this area is to streamline their systems or work with the hygienists to eliminate some of the extraneous conversation, use paperwork that can streamline the protocol and better communicate with the patients. So when the dentist does enter the treatment room, they’re ready with what needs to be addressed by the dentist and have the back-up of what they’ve already discussed with the patient.

Kevin: In your opinion, with your background and expertise, what do you think the ideal timeframe is for a hygiene patient, if there’s such a thing? Do you recommend 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes, longer than 60 minutes? Do you recommend scheduling by procedure? We have almost 20 minutes so you should be able to answer this fully and completely for our listeners.

Lisa: That’s a loaded question and I’m sure there are a lot of people on the other end listening to this waiting with bated breath on what my response will be. I think it’s really different for every practice. I think that depending on what the expectation is from the dentist and how large the practice is, what is expected to be accomplished within the appointment time, all those things need to be taken into consideration. I think that depending on what the patient is appointed for will depend on the time that the hygienist needs.

I think the first thing the office needs to identify is what they’re trying to achieve within that appointed time. Once that’s identified, then the office should sit down as a team to evaluate how much time is going to be effective and efficient. And then able to achieve what the hygienist is trying to achieve, what the doctors are trying to achieve, what the administrative staff is trying to achieve.

Multiple systems are in place and each one has to be addressed. Because the hygienist may present treatment that then has to go out to the treatment coordinator who has to address what the costs are, what the fees are. All those times need to be taken into consideration.

I think it would be unfair for me not knowing what the practice is to throw out a time. I can only speak from my experience where I worked on a 10-minute increment. We had a lot of freedom to appoint what we felt was necessary.

If I had a perio maintenance patient that required only a deep cleaning for that day but wasn’t required an exam or radiographs or was due for periodontal probing, I could see them in 30 minutes. That was me having the autonomy to book that patient on my own, but all offices have very different systems in place.

Kevin: As a practicing general dentist myself for 35 years, some of the problems that we all face is Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jones have been given a 60 minute slot and, of course, their dog got hit by a car, their child came down with a fever, they cancel and now you’re trying to find the appropriate patient for that appropriate time. I think we all struggle with this. Some of the processes and procedures that I’ve put in place that may not be politically correct — it’s what I call profiling — is the patient a one, a two, a three, a four, or five?

One means they’re the gold card. They’re the American Express Gold card. They have no insurance. They actually have been pre-approved by a soft credit check and we know those patients are prior approved. So no matter how badly the periodontal need is, if the individual does not have the financial funds, they’re probably not going to fulfil the treatment plan that’s best for them. So we do a soft credit check to determine the financial situation which is generally done through either Wells Fargo or Care Credit.

The second is categorizing the groups of patients. In our particular practice, we have five groups. Group 1; they have no insurance. What we consider the Gold Card. Group 2; they’re over the age of 65. As a general rule of thumb, usually your home is paid for, your kids are out of college and generally you’re in a retirement mode and you can finally take care of your own needs.

Type 3; you have insurance, but that insurance allows you to balance bill. Which is almost a dinosaur in today’s dental market, but they’re still out there. Type 4 are government assisted plans. These plans the government usually reduce your fees by between 60 and 70 percent, but you’re guaranteed a fee. And generally if you fill out the forms correctly, you’re going to be paid within 45 days.

Type 5 are those groups of patients that have insurance, but do not allow us to balance bill that patient. Or if we do balance bill, we’re taking a reduced fee because the dental office has signed up on a contractual basis that they’re going to provide us with X amount of patients, but for that luxury they’re going to reduce a reasonable and customary fees.

This way here the hygiene department knows from a financial and didactic stand point the profile of Mr. and Mrs. Smith before they go in. What are your feelings on that? And I hope you say positive because we’re on air.

Lisa: I will say I worked in two different types of practices: one which we only participated with two insurances and one we participated with many insurances including GHI, which was all the government state workers were signed up for, which was very slow reimbursement.

We were faced with either only presenting what we felt the insurance would pay for or presenting to the patient their actual need and allowing them to accept or reject treatment. The way that we did it was we created a system where the fee was placed at the bottom with all of the therapies included. That included the fluoride varnish, that included each quad scale, that included oral irrigation.

During that visit where they were assessed based on their periodontal probing that they were a moderate periodontal case, if they were a GHI patient, they were shown what their payment was going to be in total, including the co-payment which were procedures that were not reimbursed by their insurance.

Which were out of pocket payment because they were not covered by GHI. Yes, it was a reduced rate, but it was — as far as time, we were able to achieve a very effective treatment within a shorter period of time, a 50 minute time where typically it might be 60 minutes or an hour and 10 minutes. Just because we had the protocol and the procedure in place. Sometimes even less because we used the paperwork to streamline the efficiency of that chair time. And then when patients returned, we could rebook at a lower time frame. I would say I’m probably in agreement with you in the sense that time was taken into consideration, but we were able to shorten the time by streamlining the process.

Kevin: You’re more efficient and more effective.

Lisa: Absolutely.

Kevin: I want to get into some nitty-gritty. It’s amazing to me the number of sealants that aren’t done on premolars and second molars and first molars. The amount of fluoride that’s not offered to our geriatric patients and to our adult patients. I’m amazed at the number of ancillary procedures that are so critical to overall dental health and care and the outcome of our prostheses that can be implemented by a well run hygiene department.

Can you go into some data, some procedures, some materials that you find that are extremely helpful for most hygiene programs?

Lisa: Absolutely. One thing when I enter an office and meet with the hygiene department for a lunch period, typically, I’m there to talk about some of the systems I’ve used in the past, but also materials that my company offers to implement into their protocol. I try to work with the ADA risk assessment forms to help the hygienist use a framework in which they’re able to present fluoride to their patients. Again, we go back to streamlining the protocol.

The ADA recommends about 80 percent of your practice should be receiving some type of fluoride adjunct therapy. Many practices aren’t even aware of what their baseline is. So when we start to ask or I start to ask the hygienist, “Typically, who are you offering fluoride to?” They’ll say, “All kids.” And they don’t necessarily take the risk into account. When we introduce or when I introduce the ADA risk assessment, they’re able then to see this is an objective opportunity for me to say to my patient that they’re presenting in my chair at a high risk. And I’m going to recommend an adjunct therapy.

Often, hygienists, I think, are faced with a struggle of selling product or selling procedure and not just administering care. This takes that subjective part of their presentation out of it. And now they’re using an objective form, which is the ADA, which almost everyone is aware of. And it’s add a little of validity. Not that it needs to, but it does.

Kevin: More importantly, it’s showing value.

Lisa: Absolutely.

Kevin: In the professional healthcare systems selling has a negative connotation.

Lisa: Absolutely.

Kevin: But value has a positive connotation. And over and over again in my 35 years, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say I’m interested in bumping my revenue. I’m interested in improving my numbers, increasing my profit. I would be wrong if I said anything else, but it should never come before patient care and service.

So if you’re selling a product that isn’t delivering value, then I think you’re a charlatan. If you’re not selling a product and recommending a product that provides value, then I think you’re not doing your job as well as you should. And the profession needs that.

Can you talk specifically about some fluoride products that you’ve seen some phenomenal results with VOCO, in particular?

Lisa: Absolutely. Profluorid Varnish is a varnish that is very well received in hygiene practices. The application goes on clear, it’s very thin. The flavors are great. We have caramel, melon, mint, cherry and now bubblegum flavor so it offers a wide range of option for hygienists. Plus, it’s at a very competitive price point. You think about when you’re offering a fluoride varnish to a patient and you’re a little bit over a dollar application, it takes less than a minute to apply. And you’re offering your patient a service and improvement in their oral health. And you’re increasing your hygiene production, as you just talked about. So it’s a win-win.

Kevin: This fluoride product by VOCO, is it applied by a brush or is it applied by a swab or is it up to the hygienist and doctor to decide what works best?

Lisa: It actually comes with a brush. It’s packaged with the brush and has a little well so it’s very easy to use. It’s unit dose. And we also have tubes available. If doctors are concerned about the waste, there are tubes available with all the flavors.

Kevin:  Do you recommend that the area be isolated, such as an isolite or a dry shield?

Lisa: No. Actually it sets with the saliva. Sometimes it will go on a little bit easier if you take a 2 by 2 and wipe the teeth and then just you swipe the tooth. You do not have to cover every surface. It does become available in the saliva afterwards. So not every surface needs to be covered.

Kevin: And home care instructions; are the patients supposed to avoid eating or drinking for 15 or 20 mins or can they go immediately to resume their diet?

Lisa: They can eat and drink. We ask that they avoid anything hot liquids or anything hard and crunchy. If it in the geriatric population, at the end of the day, we ask that they avoid alcohol for four hours. And the recommended time for it to be left on is about four hours.

Kevin: As far as ADA codes, what would be the code that our listeners would be using?

Lisa: It would be the varnish code which is 01206.

Kevin: And that code that you’re talking about, does the ADA do it by quadrant or by individual tooth? Do you know how our listeners would build this? For example, if we’re going to isolate the lower right quadrant, 28, 29, 30 and 31, is that billed as four individual surfaces or is it billed as just one varnish treatment?

Lisa: There are more than one code you can use in this situation. If you’re doing localized areas, there is a desensitizing code. My apologies that I do not have that on me and I don’t want to mistaken the number for you. There is a code that I could do some research on and get back to you as far as desensitizing. So if you’re working in a specific area, there are per tooth codes that can be used. But the 1206 code is for the whole mouth for a varnish treatment.

Kevin: Okay, very good. As far as sealants, I know VOCO has some different sealants that are available. Could you speak to that?

Lisa: Right now, we just have the Grandio Seal. It’s a 70 percent filled sealant which is a great opportunity because that high filler allows for increased wear. It’s going to hold up longer. It goes on very easily. We have a non-drip technology. So in the syringe, you don’t pull back on the syringe to stop the material from flowing out. When you stop pressing, it stops flowing. Hygienists can really appreciate this type of application because they’re not required to pick up a explorer afterwards to tease the material through or have to call the dentist in to adjust it down because it’s too high.

Kevin: My name is Dr. Kevin Coughlin. We’ve been listening to Ascent Dental Solutions. This is about the 60th podcast that we’ve produced and I have to give thanks to Mr. Doug Foresta who his company, Stand Out and Be Heard, without his expertise and his knowledge in podcasting, I certainly couldn’t do this on my own. And I like, at the end of each episode, to thank Doug for his expertise.

Today, I wanted to introduce VOCO and their ability to provide value, not only because of their products, but their ability to bring people into your office, train those people and help them to add value to our care and our service that we’re already providing. I could tell you that our company Bay State Dental had a 115,000 patient visits in 2016. And I cannot tell you whether it’s large or small, you need proper processes and procedures and a well-trained team to support your organization.

What I particularly care about with VOCO is their ability to come in and do lunch and learns to provide expertise to the staff that many time we as dentists don’t have that expertise. We should, but many times we’re confused on the new products, we’re not sure how to use the new products, and many times we don’t have a baseline.

Experts like Lisa can come to our practice and help us improve, more importantly than our bottom line, but our care and service to our patients. Lisa, I can’t thank you enough and your company VOCO for being here today. I’m sure we’re going to be having you back. Thanks so much for your expertise.

This is Dr. Kevin Coughlin. You’ve been listening to Ascent Dental Solutions. Thank you all for listening and we look forward to talking to you in the next week.