Patients often associate routine dental hygiene care with prophylaxis, but the recall or re-care appointment should not be viewed from this limited perspective. Many other procedures are performed by the dental hygienist during this appointment time, including the following:
The dentist may need to verify certain procedures performed by the dental hygienist and determine whether any follow-up care is indicated. The importance of the tasks performed during the recall or re-care appointment should be emphasized to the patient by the administrative assistant, as well as by other staff members, because this promotes routine dental hygiene care.
The success of a recall or re-care system depends on three factors: (1) educating the patient about his or her dental health; (2) motivating the patient; and (3) providing consistent follow-up. The entire staff must help patients develop a sense of responsibility toward their own dental health. In addition, the patient must be aware of how the practice’s recall or re-care system operates.
Education begins when the patient first visits the office. In addition to asking for the patient’s basic health information, the health questionnaire should address the patient’s views toward maintaining or improving his or her oral health. Questions such as “Are you happy with your smile?” or “How do you think your smile could be improved?” can lead to discussions about oral health and help the dentist or hygienist determine the patient’s oral health goals
Asking a patient if he or she would like to discuss developing a lifetime approach toward his or her dental health and appearance is vital to determining long-range plans for the patient’s dental care. By talking about a lifetime strategy toward good dental health and appearance, patients think about lifetime plans rather than simply fixing a problem found during routine prophylaxis. Thus, the dentist and the hygienist are able to include the routine recall or re-care appointment as part of total lifetime care. In fact, some dentists have adopted the approach of including the first recall or re-care appointment after extensive dental care as part of the total fee. This lets the patient know how important it is to return to the office for complete prophylaxis and routine care.
The timing of a recall/re-care appointment is determined on an individual basis. Consultation between the dentist and the dental hygienist will determine whether the patient needs to return on a 3-, 4-, or 6-month recall/re-care. This can help the patient to stop thinking solely of dental visits as something that occurs every 6 months; this elevates the appointment to higher therapeutic ground.
Remember that a successful recall or re-care system requires that the administrative assistant use effective communication skills. For example, when a patient returns to the business area after a routine oral prophylaxis, the administrative assistant might say, “We’re looking forward to seeing you at your next re-care appointment. You know you want to keep that beautiful smile.”
The motivation of patients, which is critical to the effectiveness of the recall or re-care system, is the responsibility of the entire dental staff. After a patient has been educated and motivated to accept a recall or re-care system, the administrative assistant is responsible for maintaining the system efficiently. The importance of this step cannot be overemphasized. If an assistant ignores the system even for 1 month, the effect on the patient flow becomes noticeable within a short time, and patients begin to feel ignored.
Patients in the dental practice must understand the importance of recall or re-care. Patient education should promote the recall or re-care system and at the same time inform the patient about the dental procedures that the office offers. Some practical and easy ways to keep patients informed about the office include the following:
Any of several types of recall or re-care systems can be used. Most dentists find that no one system is perfect; therefore, they often use more than one. The most common systems are the advanced appointment system, the telephone system, the mail system, and, more recently, the telecommunications system, which involves e-mailing and text messaging patients.
With the advanced appointment system, recall or re-care appointments are scheduled before the patient leaves the office. Most dental management companies promote advanced scheduling as the most efficient method to schedule recall/re-care appointments. The downside to this type of scheduling is that certain groups of patients, such as professionals with their own schedules (e.g., physicians, attorneys), may not know their schedule 3, 4, or 6 months in advance. Advocates of this system contend that most patients know their routines as well as the appointment times that are generally best for them.
One of the most important points when using the advanced recall/re-care system is to leave room in the dental hygienist’s schedule for new patients and for patients who are not able to schedule in advance. Selectively blocking appointment times in advance will allow for appointment times for these patients. Several morning and afternoon appointments on alternate days should be made available. If these blocks are not scheduled, the administrative assistant can use these times to schedule patients on a short call list. This is a list where patients have indicated they are available on short notice to fill the appointment time.
The office staff should weigh the advantages and disadvantages listed in Box 12-1.