Laura Horton has been evangelising about the benefits of employing a treatment coordinator (TCO) in your dental practice in recent years… and it seems that a lot of people have been listening. More and more practices are employing the skills of a TCO and often to dramatic effect.
Les Jones caught up with Laura to hear why she is so passionate about promoting the TCO role.
Laura’s own first experience as a TCO came in 2004. She had been temping as a dental nurse for eight years but was looking for a new challenge. She had ruled out moving into the role of hygienist and in her own words was ‘a lost soul’.
LJ: How did you first get into the role of TCO?
LH: The agency I was with asked me if I was interested in going for a job with a practice about 20 minutes away from where I was working at that time. I decided to go along and they offered me the job, but then asked me if I’d be interested in taking on the role of TCO in their other practice is Essex. I didn’t know what a TCO was, but when it was explained I thought that it sounded good; I’d get to keep my own diary and see patients, so I decided to give it a go… and started the next week.
As it turned out, the two principals at the practice were very forward thinking and were early adopters of the role of TCO. They had been to America on numerous courses and worked with the best business coaches from there. They were young, energetic, very goal orientated and focused on what they wanted to be doing with their dentistry and their careers.
LJ: When did the role of TCO first appear in dentistry?
I would estimate that the role would have been around in the eighties. There has always been a little debate about where the role originated, either Australia or America, but I’m not really bothered as it’s here now and it’s fantastic. Paddy Lund, a dentist from Australia, is a huge advocate of the role and has employed TCOs for years and years. In the UK they have been in orthodontic practices for much longer than general practice and I find they are always a step ahead with their team development.
LJ: So you arrived at this job that you had never heard of before and you suddenly step into this role – how did that feel?
LH: It felt like I had found my place. I mentioned before that I was a lost soul but I was quite up for giving anything a try. I feel that I am a positive person and I really wanted a career. I am not suggesting that dental nursing isn’t a career but at that point in time, in 2004, you had to put yourself on a voluntary register and most people saw dental nurses as the little person who should be quiet in the corner.
I wanted something different, something that made me feel good about my job. I loved the role straight away. Within the first month, when I was given the autonomy to make changes, it clicked and I thought, ‘Yep, this is it! This is what I’ve been looking for and it suits me down to the ground. I love it!’ I found great satisfaction in it.
Let me explain: the TCO role allows dentists to move away from the daily tasks of treatment plans, consents, paperwork and explanations with patients. It ensures that their patients are making informed decisions – which in turn falls in line with the CQC consent processes. Legally, you can argue that they are working to the highest standard possible.Laura Horton
LJ: It sounds like you could see the possibilities within the role?
LH: Customer care has always been something that is really important to me. Even before I had started dental nursing, I had an NVQ in Customer Service combined with previously working for years in a Harley Street practice. I felt like I knew what customer service was all about and I loved to provide that. I could have worked fantastically within an NHS set-up as a dental nurse but I got much more satisfaction as a nurse from the customer service element. I spent years working with a dentist who was the first in his area to offer IV sedation, so all day long I helped to look after nervous patients.
It’s an aspect that has always been part of me; to enjoy helping patients and changing their perception of dentistry. When I started doing the TCO role and only had fifteen minutes for a new patient consultation, I knew that it wasn’t enough time. So I approached my boss, Ash, and he allowed me to have more time. I then started to think about all the other skills I had, radiography and my oral health education, and tried to tie them in with the role. The role was basically a massive work in progress but I couldn’t have developed the role the way I did if it hadn’t been for Ash.
LJ: Why should a dentist have a TCO?
LH: Quite simply, to increase their turnover and to reduce their non-clinical time, which allows them to concentrate on the dentistry they enjoy doing. Let me explain: the TCO role allows dentists to move away from the daily tasks of treatment plans, consents, paperwork and explanations with patients. It ensures that their patients are making informed decisions – which in turn falls in line with the CQC consent processes. Legally, you can argue that they are working to the highest standard possible.
As a TCO, you are their right-hand person who is there for them, supporting them with the patient. This means the dentist gets to do more of the dentistry that they enjoy because they are not having to focus on creating the paperwork such as treatment plans, they only have to review it.
LJ: What are the steps to thinking about putting a TCO in place?
LH: The first things to consider are who and where. So, who is going to do this role for you? You need to speak to the team individually, one-to-one, to explain the role to them and see if anyone might be interested. You then need to go down the correct processes for advertising and interviewing for the role. I would recommend you try to find this person from within as it is really hard to recruit from outside, unless you are in a city, as there is a higher possibility of finding the right person.
As a dentist, you need to have a TCO you know and trust. Secondly, the TCO needs to believe in the dentist and the dentistry that they deliver, otherwise they cannot say to the patient, with conviction, that the recommendations are genuine.
LJ: It sounds sensible, but will everyone have the right person in their dental practice?
LH: No, not always. I would recommend that if you haven’t then you wait until you find the right person. In fact, I would recommend making sure you have at least two people who can fit this role: one as your main person and one as a back-up to cover holidays and sickness. I guarantee, once you start using this role you won’t want it to stop.
LJ: What would be my check-list when looking for a TCO?
LH: There is a lot more information available about what the role covers compared to when I first started, but a general rule of thumb is:
- A positive can-do attitude
- A great personality, someone who is smiley and happy
- Someone who can get on with all types of different personalities
- A good communicator and an exceptionally good listener
The whole role is about relationships, with patients and with the dental team. It’s a vitally important aspect of the role and this can’t become an issue. A potential TCO doesn’t need to be working as a dental nurse, they just need to have dental knowledge. Ideally, they also need to have some leadership skills because they are the central person who is in communication with the patient, dentist and the rest of the team. They need to feel comfortable to push everyone in the right direction and also push customer service forward.
10 reasons to introduce the role of TCO in your dental practice:
1) Your level of customer service will be excellent and consistent
2) It’s a great way to attract new patients, especially nervous patients
3) Your dental practice can offer free consultations at no cost to the dentist
4) It will make the front desk team’s day at work less stressful
5) It will increase dental treatment uptake
6) Referrals from dental patients will increase
7) You will receive a higher return on your investment from your dental marketing
8) The amount of non-clinical dentistry from the dentist decreases
9) It will empower your dental team
10) Treatment coordinators pay for themselves over and over
About the author
Laura Horton has an outstanding passion for, and knowledge of, dentistry. Laura’s passion lies with the training and implementation of the TCO role, and has been responsible for the breakthrough and education of this role within the UK dental profession.
Find out more about Laura and Horton Consulting by visiting www.horton-consulting.com