The Benefits of Protocols and Checklists

Operating rooms and surgeons are famous for their protocols and checklists to ensure that no vital detail is overlooked and that all tasks are carried out safely and confidently. In the dental industry, we also need to prioritize these same principles to instill high standards in our practices and in our delivery to our valued patients.

We all know that repetition of the same action in the same order and using successful systems will lead to successful results. It’s the very reason we instill protocols and checklists. However, protocols can run into a problem and lose their value if they become watered-down. It happens often – a protocol is presented and put in place, only to be from thereon never or rarely viewed. Another issue arises when one or more team members begin to make modifications. In the end, the result is a protocol that strays far from what was ever its original intent. To add fuel to the fire, new team members may be trained without the written protocol in hand, while referring to the modified version as a teaching model!

So why even take the time to develop protocols if they are going to be ignored or modified? Quite simply, you must have consistent delivery of your expected standards, which affects and reaches every team member and patient. You can’t possibly be everywhere and constantly aware of what your team is delivering at every moment. Protocols save the day and are your representation of the way you want your office to succeed.

Not only do I strongly suggest that clear protocols/checklists are devised and presented within your office but also reviewed in detail at least once a month. I often see teams think they’re following a protocol to the letter, but they’ve eliminated some steps without even realizing it.  Bearing this in mind, let’s look at the following tasks in your office and my suggestions for detailed protocols/checklists that should be created to cover all steps:

  • Scheduling an appointment from a phone call, especially a new patient call. Each contact with a patient should have uniformity of delivery, and a new patient needs to feel welcomed, heard and thanked for reaching out to the office. The collection of information needs to be consistent to make the patient confident and comfortable that they are being heard, which they can often sense from the communication of their details between team members. (I am happy to provide a complimentary “conversation” for new patient calls if you would like to contact me). When an existing patient calls the office, all the above apply, and never forget to make them feel recognized.
  • A checklist for patient arrivals must go beyond any COVID prescreening. Mask or no mask, maintain warm welcoming smiles (it can be heard in your voice!), patient recognition, and updating of any necessary information.
  • Chair time protocols/checklists need to be developed for the tasks that are expected to be completed prior to the dentists joining the room. This begins by helping with the patient’s personal belongings, followed by an update of medical/dental information, radiographs that need to be taken, and any necessary clinical prep.
  • Very definitive protocols should be developed around Dentist/Hygienist handovers, treatment planning, and treatment acceptance. If these protocols aren’t followed, then it is very easy for diagnosed treatment to fall through the cracks. There can’t be enough protocols/checklists for scheduling diagnosed treatment.
  • Patient retention is a very broad topic that requires several protocols and checklists. This ranges from pre-appointing low-risk patients for their hygiene appointments, hygiene recall system setup, treatment planning set-up within your software, and all methods of communication with patients.

Establishing, and consistently reviewing all these protocols/checklists will maintain clear, across-the-board follow-through without shortcuts unintentionally sneaking in before you and your team realize it. It’s a great idea to have your team contribute to writing the protocols, along with training on any changes that you would like implemented. I can’t stress it enough, review the protocols with the specific team members monthly. This should go beyond initializing a copy of the protocol. Implement a standard that the protocol is in front of members when they are performing a pertinent task.

Protocols and checklists exist to put everyone’s performance and understanding on the same page, and it’s a sure way to guarantee comfort and safety for our teams and our patients.

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