What is a proper hand-off?

Oct. 24, 2011
Denise Ciardello explains why a proper hand-off of a patient at the end of a dental appointment is key to knowing what the next move will be for the patient. She gives sample techniques you can use in your practice.

By Denise Ciardello

Recently on one of my flights, the pilot came on the PA system and said, “Flight attendants, we have been cleared for takeoff.” I glanced toward the front and noticed that all the flight attendants were strapped in their seats. So why did the pilot make that announcement? He made it to ensure that everyone, not just the flight attendants, were aware of our next move.

This is the same reason why proper hand-off of a patient at the end of a dental appointment is key to knowing what the next move will be for the patient. The patient appearing at the checkout counter is a visual clue that this patient's appointment is over. If an office has computers in the operatory, the treatment plan should already be entered into the patient's chart, otherwise the chart can be read by the checkout team member for the information. So why state the obvious? It is important so the patient is aware of the next move and knows that the entire team is on board.

Too many times we see patients walk up to the front desk, only to wait until the paperwork catches up to them, or worse, patients carry their charts up to the front. This often results in the admin staff having to get up to confer with the assistant or hygienist to clarify what was done and what needs to be done. This is a time waster for everyone involved.

What is a proper hand-off? It is escorting the patient from the operatory to the checkout desk or window, then a quick refresher from the assistant to the admin team member about what occurred during the appointment and what needs to occur next. HIPAA rules apply so patient privacy must be maintained at all times.

An example of a proper hand-off may be ...

Assistant: "Mary, Mr. Jones’ appointment went exactly as scheduled. Dr. Molar would like to see him in three weeks for 30 minutes to place his permanent crown." Or "Betty, I've completed Joe's appointment in the computer. He is all set until his hygiene appointment."

Hygienist: "Mary, Dr. Molar needs to see Joe for nine units at the earliest appointment available to take care of the upper left (No. 14). We don't want that to get any worse." Or "Mary, Mrs. Smith had a great visit today. She is good until her next hygiene appointment in November."

Does it seem like you are stating the obvious? It should because you are. But it is important information that everyone involved needs to know. The patient may have heard the doctor tell the assistant or hygienist the diagnosis, and a clinical team member may have then explained it to the patient. By telling the admin team, the diagnosis goes full circle through the office and the patient has all the details on what needs to be done, how long it will take, and the urgency for getting it completed.

The clinical team member then turns to the patient with a quick farewell and “I’ll see you in a few weeks” or “I’ll see you at your next cleaning,” whatever the case may be. Patients always need to hear that they will be back.

By making this hand-off a routine exchange between team members, you will make sure that your patients are always informed of their next move.

Author bio
Denise Ciardello is a respected professional in the dental consulting industry and a co-founder of Global Team Solutions, a practice management consulting firm specializing in team building and team training. She can be reached at [email protected] or (210) 862-9445.