Nothing happens in our comfort zone: The master of cryptology

Feb. 19, 2018
Elicia Lupoli, RDH, profiles the dental hygiene career of Patti DiGangi, RDH.

By Elicia Lupoli, RDH, BSDH

In dental hygiene, there are devoted individuals who respect the licensure they worked so hard to obtain and also refrain from publicly bashing the profession. The decision to showcase a few of the most successful dental hygienists was in hope for readers to understand that the journey to success is achievable, with a bit of footwork. Dental hygienists have demonstrated over and over again that (together) we can do anything.

Last week, I offer a glimpse into the careers of Michelle Strange, RDH, and Andrew Johnston, RDH, who are famous as the podcasters of “The Tale of Two Hygienists.”

In previous weeks, I profiled Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, a mother of a large Wisconsin family who yearned for something more from her career, and Angie Stone, RDH, who found a niche in improving elder care in our nation’s nursing home.

I will introduce you to the other dental hygiene pioneers in upcoming issues of RDH eVillage.

It's in the code

Patti’sinitial footwork: Going to a convention and mingling.

Patti DiGangi, RDH, BS, referred to as “quite an activist hygienist,” has been well known for many areas of expertise, including the Dental Codeologybooks, which started out with pocket sized, informational series of books. The Dental Codeologist Community is the newest extension of Patti’s brand and was launched at the RDH Under One Roof conference in August 2017.

The Dental Codeologist Community is comprised of Dental Codeologists, who are educated and empowered to shape the future of coding and health care. Dealing with dental benefit carriers, coding, and coverage, often leads to frustration and helplessness. There has never been a place or person to help the hygienist who is told to “figure out how to bill/treatment plan for that" or remind employers and colleagues that the dental hygienist’s job is to prevent disease and treat the patient, not the insurance or the dentist. The coding answers have most often come from the American Dental Association or independent consultants (until now!).

First licensed in the early 1970s, Patti lived her life mostly based on what others thought she should do. She was well behaved, easy-to-get along with, and made no waves. She practiced clinically for a dental practice that her family had been going to most of her life. She got married, bought the first home, and basically living an "OK" life, but Patti knew something was missing.

“At the age of 27, I started to find my own path, not the one prescribed by others," she said. "I had many ups, downs, made some good choices and not so good choices.”

Along the way, Patti heard a lot about future focus. I asked what this meant and and her brief description indicated that it is to focus and visualize the future, figuring out where you want to go. You need a destination to figure out your path and your future.

Patti started taking CE classes, long before it was even required by her state practice act. “I was a 15-year clinician with an AS degree. I remember this day perfectly. On March 17, 1988, I was sitting in a CE and thought it was awful. I could do better. I heard a lot about future focus and did not know it was real until that day. Sitting there, I could actually visualize writing and speaking and making a difference in the profession. I could actually see it! I sat there and made my five-year plan. The next step in my journey was to figure out how one becomes a speaker.”

What Patti didn’t understand then and only grasped in more recent years is that she is a futurist. She can see what doesn’t exist and then try to figure out how to make it happen. Patti has a talent that she didn’t know about for a very long time.

I asked Patti what she remembered about moving forward with her plans. Her proud answer: “It was March 17, 1993. Exactly five years later from that CE when I wrote my five-year plan down! It is the power of intention and setting plans. I wanted to write and speak, and I created my first course, five years to the day of when I first set that goal. I didn’t realize the date part until much later. We often understand our life more clearly looking back then when we are making our choices.”

She suggested strangers should not confuse her with cryptography because of the Dental Codeology branding that she created.

Patti said, “I am a Chief Dental Codeologist, but not because I love codes. I coined the word DentalCodeology and it has become my brand. I am mission-driven to shape the future of health care. I believe we can have a world with no oral cancer. Cure, not just manage, periodontal disease. We meet the World Federation of Dentistry 2020 goal ‘to have a caries-free world.’ Big goals won’t happen by doing more of the same.”

Intrigued, I asked Patti to elaborate.

“Rising costs, aging populations, and the emergence of disruptive technologies are just a few of the challenges facing our health-care systems, including dentistry," she said. "Value-based dentistry helps dental professionals to deliver individualized treatment options to patients that align with their values and desires. The metrics of coding gives opportunity to measure outcome data in a values-based healthcare system. DentalCodeology is dedicated to helping dentistry provide more efficient, cost-effective, evidence-based, value-based clinical care through the interconnectivity of the overall healthcare system.”

Patti struck something here that is a common denominator in dentistry and rarely understood. Codes for procedures do not solely exist for entities to get reimbursed. Codes allow traceability, proof and evidence, documentation and data collection that contributes to the future of our healthcare.

A glaring controversy exists on the need for prevention vs. providingtreatment. The dental hygienist is the most perfect model (I can think of) that separates prevention from treatment, yet many have been forced by fear to push for more services; employers blinding hygienists with false restrictions or limitations about dental coverage, or lack of.

In response to a question about her mentors, Patti offered a unique response, “Define mentors and mentees? The relationships differ as you grow together. The mentor is selected by the mentee. What they need and want is what is different because of who they are, their direction as well as their season in life. Along the way I have learned what a mentor is and isn’t. Everything is about connections. Personal connections and even the business part is a personal connection. The mentor waits for the protégé. The mentor does not let the relationship become codependent. The mentor does not own the outcomes.”

Patti said that she is as much of a protégé as she is a mentor. Many of her relationships are both these days. She learns from helping others.

I asked what advice she would off to recent graduates. She offered a quote from an upcoming Dental Codeology book that she is co-writing with Liz Nies, RDH, BS.

"Here is an excerpt, as well as it is the best advice I know: ‘Here is what we know about you. You have talent! You are already thinking: But I can't act, but I don't do improv, but I don't have that kind of talent. Go back and re-read The Big But section. Listen to your inner voice on how often but comes up. When we use the word talent, we are talking about high performing individuals. Every person has the potential to be a high performer in their lives. We live in a world that is changing rapidly. The things that worked in the past and made us successful may no longer work anymore. A key factor of talented individuals is that they always manage to elicit high-performance in whatever context they find themselves. Today’s talent and landscape shifts the power to the individual.”

Elicia Lupoli, RDH, BSDH, is on the editorial board for RDH magazine and Hygienetown, as well as an editor for her state association’s quarterly newsletter (ADHA Connecticut). Elicia attributes the start of her writing career to Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, and other success to her many mentors.