Engaging Staff Make for Engaged Patients: Spotlight on the Dental Assistant

We’ve been talking a lot on this blog lately about big picture ideas and how mission statements and value propositions contribute to the success of your dental practice. Today I want to remind readers that it really is people that keep a practice running and, with a focus on the key role of the dental assistant, explore how finding the right person for the job can increase practice production and improve workflows.

There are those outside the industry who don’t understand the many facets of this position – even some clinicians may not always appreciate the complexity of the role and the multi-dimensional value that the right dental assistant brings to any practice. So, I’m putting a spotlight on this often-undervalued position to show how the right dental assistant will keep your patients engaged and your business growing.

Look for Well-Rounded Staff Members
To perform at the essential level, dental assistants must be well-versed in anatomy and physiology, dental radiography, oral microbiology, and preventative and emergency care. And, they must be skilled at:

  • Preparing treatment rooms with tray set-ups and equipment while keeping a sterile environment
  • Seating and preparing patients in the treatment room
  • Checking blood pressure
  • Taking and processing radiographs (including a keen understanding of the safety protocols surrounding radiation exposure)
  • Preparing materials for dental impressions and other procedures
  • Assisting the dentist at the chairside during procedures
  • Sterilizing instruments according to proper protocols and maintaining equipment

When you are looking for your next dental assistant, be sure that they not only have the hard skills listed above but that they also have soft skills such as the ability to communicate effectively, strong attention to detail, and compassion for the patient. These are skills they can’t teach in dental college and you need to be sure that your new hire will bring them to the job.

Communication Skills Matter
While dental assistants need to know about all the typical dental procedures you perform, it’s their ability to communicate with patients about how the practice will help with the state of patients’ oral health that makes the dental assistant an important pillar of your practice.

Dental assistants are one of the members of the dental health team that help guide patients through the process of comprehending, accepting and then eventually completing treatment – all of this takes the ability to speak well and know when to listen.

Assistants need to take down pertinent patient histories, learn from patients the specifics of their oral health care routines and explain how treatments will be beneficial to their unique situation.

Attention to Detail is Key
Being a detail-oriented worker is another key trait for dental assistants. In order to complete treatments requiring many steps, dental assistants must carefully pay attention to each step in the treatment protocol and focus on assisting the dentist at the right times to maintain a fluid workflow.

Proactive thinking and attention to detail means that patients get the level of treatment they deserve.

Compassion Counts
Fear of the dentist’s chair is the second most common fear in the Western world and your clinic will be catering to people with this fear week in and week out. Nobody wants to think about it but when a patient starts to cry in the dental chair because they are terrified of their dentist, a dental assistant’s compassion can be the key to comforting them.

Form a Bond
The best moment to connect and engage with patients and form a bond with them is throughout stages of the appointment queue. Every dental assistant should have training on how to approach a patient, how to make them feel comfortable and how to acknowledge and help them overcome any fear they may have of the procedures to be performed.

Engaging in small, light conversations can be a great ice-breaker as long as staff are careful not to be too intrusive or pushy. Often, a calm demeanour and pleasant approach are enough to do the job.

Maintain Patients Bonds Between Appointments
For small dental offices it is quite common for dental assistants to do double duty in that they may also be responsible for tasks such as booking appointments and patient post treatment follow up. In these cases, the dental assistant will need additional skills that include how to use the basic functions of your dental practice management system. In particular, the dental assistant will need to know how to schedule appointments, update patient files and locate patients that require follow up.

Performing these extended duties is also a great way for dental assistants to stay on top of patients’ health and demonstrate that the person who assisted with their treatment in the operatory is continuing to take an active interest in their well being. This can forge bonds that lead to lifetime patients.

These days, taking patient engagement to the next tier requires having your entire dental staff on board – working as a cohesive whole. Team-wide, high-level communication skills come with practice, but once implemented, the patient experience can really skyrocket – especially when each office administrator, hygienist, dentist and in this case the dental assistant, operates beyond their basic training.

Remember this and watch your practice grow.

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