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710: Mastering the Hand-Off; 1 Move With Big Impact – Michelle Wakeman

Are you ever at the doctor’s office and feel like no one is listening? That could be happening in your own dental practice! One solution is the hand-off, an important element in your practice. Kirk Behrendt brings in Michelle Wakeman, one of ACT’s amazing coaches, to explain what it is and how to do it right so that your patients have a great experience at each visit. To learn the recipe for an excellent hand-off, listen to Episode 710 of The Best Practices Show!

Learn More About Michelle:

Learn More About ACT Dental:

More Helpful Links for a Better Practice & a Better Life:

Main Takeaways:

  • Hand-offs elevate the patient experience.
  • Learn when and how to perform a hand-off.
  • Use the hand-off to set parameters on chat time.
  • Know the four W’s to ask when handing off a patient.
  • Set aside time to practice the hand-off with your team.


“Hand-offs are important for a variety of reasons. It sounds simple, but it has a huge impact in the fact that it helps your patient feel more safe and more welcome in their environment. And how do so many dental patients present in the office? They present with an aspect of fear. So, if we can do something small to actually help decrease that fear response, why not do it? It elevates your customer service.” (2:42—3:08)

“A hand-off is simply the exchange of information from one person to another. Ideally, it involves the patient in a triangular setup. What I'll often coach my clients on is to actually go into your operatories. Practice this. Go in with your team, set up with a patient in the chair, doctor on one side, clinician on the other. What that does is it creates a triangle where you're sharing information, helps inspire trust, and helps involve the patient in the process.” (4:30—5:02)

“I think we can all think of a situation where we've gone in, and you feel like no one is listening. So, the hand-off shows your patients, ‘Hey, I listened to you.’ I took in what you said to the extent that I'm able to then repeat that information back to this other provider. It also saves the patient from having to explain themselves over and over again, which can get seriously frustrating.” (5:04—5:24)

“Hand-offs happen in a variety of places any time you're involving a patient and sharing information. So, they can occur clinically from assistant to doctor. They can occur from assistant to hygienist. Let's say your hygienist is coming in to grab a patient and take them over to their chair for a hygiene appointment after a filling. You're going to have that assistant hand off that patient to the hygienist so that they're up to date on what's going on. As you were just saying, it also occurs with our business team. So, when we are transitioning a patient from our chair to then go discuss something about financial arrangements or their next appointment, we want to make sure that we provide a concierge level of service to that patient by actually facilitating that exchange for that patient from our chair to our business team member.” (6:41—7:24)

“What I love about a hand-off at the front desk is it also helps to loop that business team member into the relationship. So, I've just spent an hour as a hygienist — 30 minutes to an hour. Maybe longer, if I'm a dental assistant establishing rapport with that patient. I need to let our business team member establish that same rapport by inviting them into that relationship because they're about to talk about something that can be very sticky with that patient. They're going to talk about money. If there's no relationship there, then how is that patient supposed to trust that person to look out for their best interests from an investment standpoint?” (7:26—7:58)

“For most patients, they're coming for healthcare. So, let's provide healthcare first. The relationship aspect is absolutely vital. I know I always, as a hygienist, loved finding out more about my patients, personally. But there is a way to do that in your hand-off and do it smoothly and professionally. ‘Hey, Dr. Awesome. I know you're going to want to spend some time chatting with Mrs. Jones about her trip last weekend. I'm going to give you guys two minutes, and then we're going to get back to work.’ That way, you've set the expectation that you know they're going to want to have that conversation, but we're also going to have parameters to that time that we're going to spend together.” (13:03—13:35)

“I always like to think of a hand-off as having a recipe. So, it's, what did we do today? What did we discover today? What do we need next? And then, what do I need from you? I always want to make sure that when I give a hand-off, I'm specifically telling whoever I'm giving the hand-off to what our next steps are and what I need them to do for us.” (13:44—14:06)

“Language matters. So, I'm never going to tell a patient, ‘All right. Well, you need a crown on that tooth.’ What I'm going to say to them is, ‘In my experience, when Dr. Awesome treats a tooth that looks similar to yours, he generally will recommend a crown. That's in order to hold the tooth together because there's decay, and it's very large. We want to make sure that everything stays stable for you in the long term. We'll get his expert opinion to see whether he agrees that that's the appropriate treatment there.’ So, I didn't tell the patient that they had to do it. I didn't tell them what they needed. I told them, in my experience, what type of treatment is generally recommended for that particular issue that they're having.” (15:31—16:11)

“[The steps are] literally always the same. The admin needs to know the exact same thing — what we did, why we did it, what's next, what do I need from you. The only extra piece that I would throw in there, and it kind of goes in with the why, what is their goal? Why is this treatment important to this patient? The doctor needs to know that, and your business team needs to know that, because if we don't know what that patient's primary motivating factor is, how are we going to be able to answer any objections that they may have to the treatment? Whether it's time, money, or fear, those are generally the big three that we hear about from patients, and if we don't do the work to ascertain, ‘What are your concerns?’ and then provide that information to the next person that we're passing the baton to, then we're going to be unsuccessful.” (16:20—17:04)

“When the patient comes in and they're seating the patient, let's say they're coming in for a filling. They're going to get the patient's medical history. Talk to them about, ‘What do you understand about your procedure today?’ Maybe the patient is going to ask them a question. Maybe they're going to tell them that they're fearful. You're going to do the exact same thing. ‘Hey, Dr. Awesome. We're ready to go. Mrs. Jones is a little apprehensive about that filling today.’ So, we're letting the doctor know without saying it like, ‘Hey, you're going to need to give them a little extra TLC. Maybe a little shoulder rub. Go nice and slow on that injection,’ and she's ready to move forward. ‘She understands that we're doing this because she has decay, and she does not want to lose that tooth in the future.’ So, now I'm building some value into that appointment so that that patient isn't going to have buyer's remorse after they leave. And then, what's next? ‘All right, doc. We're ready for you to go ahead and get everything comfortable for Mrs. Jones so we can move forward with that.’ So, now the doctor knows what we need from him, and we go.” (17:17—18:11)

“There are a variety of different ways to introduce [the hand-off] into a practice. What I have found to be most successful in the past is doing some skills practice with that. So, setting aside time. At ACT, we are huge proponents of setting aside time to work on the business — land that plane. So, during your weekly meeting time, set aside some time for your clinical team and your business team to actually role play through this. Go back in an operatory. Look at the structure. As a hygienist, it sounds silly. But when the doctor comes in, am I going to be scrunched in the corner? Do I need to find a place that I can move around so that we can get into that triangular position? Let's say when we head up front, same thing, there's a front door right by my business team desk. I need to position myself in between the front door and the patient so that the patient understands, ‘Hey, guys. We're stopping here, and we're going to talk to Sally before I let you get out of here.’” (18:27—19:16)

“Every single time you do it is an opportunity to practice. So, as a hygienist, let's say you see eight patients a day. You get to practice that hand-off 16 times because we're handing off to the doctor, and we're also handing off to our business team member upfront. So, encourage your teams. Look at this as growth. You're either succeeding, or you're learning. We're not failing. So, let's all get in there and give it the old college try, and try again.” (20:54—21:22)

“It sounds like such a no-brainer to talk about this hand-off process. But the more you practice it, the more that you'll discover the little things that are helpful. And I guarantee you, your team is going to be so happy to have better communication and clarity. When I talk to my clients and we look at what's going well and what's not going well, nine times out of 10, their problems stem from communication, an issue surrounding that. So, if we can find a way to streamline communication within the practice, it's going to make things easier for everyone's day.” (21:59—22:31)


0:00 Introduction.

2:30 Why the hand-off is important.

4:24 The hand-off, explained.

6:36 Where the hand-off should happen.

11:33 Set parameters on chat time.

13:35 The hand-off recipe.

14:59 Language matters.

16:12 The hand-off steps for the admin team.

17:06 The hand-off steps for chairside assistants.

18:13 How to implement the hand-off into your practice.

20:29 You're either succeeding, or you're learning.

21:52 Last thoughts.

Michelle Wakeman, BSDH, Bio:

Michelle Wakeman, BSDH, brings nearly 20 years of clinical dental hygiene, administrative, managerial, and sales experience to the table. She has a passion for people and a natural aptitude for communication that has led her to develop meaningful relationships throughout her career in dentistry. As a coach, she seeks to help dental practices develop systems that enable them to enhance their patient experience, leading to better relationships among owners, team members, and patients, along with profitable outcomes.

In her off time, Michelle can usually be found at the ice rink supporting her son, Hunter, in hockey, the ball field cheering on her son, Carter, or the gym, reliving her days as a gymnast with her daughter, Leighton.