The hand-off from the clinical team member to the business team member is an important communication skill that provides the patient with the assurance that the team members know what their needs are and are confident in the treatment provided or needed. When clinical team members merely bring the patient to the business team and “drop off”, the business team and the patient are often wondering what was done that day and/or what needs to be scheduled next visit. Whether the practice uses the practice management software for communication or provides paper or other communication tool, the hand-off from clinical to business needs to be seamless. Often there is the communication between doctor and hygienist or assistant in the operatory, but sometimes that doesn’t get transmitted to the business team. If the communication between doctor, hygienist/assistant and patient has not been initiated in the operatory, the hygienist/assistant can begin the process by recapping for the patient the day’s treatment and the next visit needs before bringing the patient to the business office.
Initiate the hand-off process by bringing the patient to a seated position in the operatory chair and maintaining eye contact, the hygienist/assistant can recap the day’s treatment and discuss future appointments. The importance of the day’s visit and future treatment can be stressed to the patient at this point, which helps build value for the patient for future dental care. Once that is completed and any questions asked and answered, the hygienist/assistant can bring the patient to the business office and reiterate the completed treatment and future treatment for the business team.
The business team member should already be aware of the information since the clinical team should have communicated the information prior to bringing the patient to the business office. The repetition is done for the patient’s benefit – the more times an adult hears a message, the more they understand and will take action. Additionally, the clinical team should position her/himself between the patient and the door to signal to the patient that it is not time to leave yet, while also shielding from other patients in the reception area.
Following HIPAA guidelines, especially if other patients or team members are within hearing, the exact treatment completed or planned should not be stated, but generalizations used. If appropriate, the clinical team member can give the patient her/his business card for any further questions or information (as well as to build potential referrals) and then the business team member can finalize the day’s appointment or handle scheduling future appointments.
If the patient does not wish to schedule future appointments at that time, the business team member should ask the patient for permission to make a follow-up contact if they have not heard back from them in a specific time frame. Often “life gets in the way” and well-meaning patients often forget to contact the office to schedule treatment. All of this does take a few extra minutes during the appointment, but since repetition is the key to learning, the patient’s current care and future needs will be reinforced, thus building value and respect for the practice and their individual treatment needs.
This triangle of patient, clinical team and business team communication may need to be practiced – spending time at team meetings to review the process may be effective. While business team members are not only responsible for checking out patients, there are a multitude of other responsibilities that exist. By planning and practicing an effective hand-off, all team members begin to understand how their actions, or lack thereof, can affect others abilities to do their job well and improve patient case acceptance.