From the receptionist and billing coordinator to the hygienist and dental assistant, every employee should play an integral role in the screening and managing of potential patients who might not know they suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
You’ve already taken the biggest step—deciding to incorporate dental sleep medicine in your practice. The next step is including each member of your dental team. As the dentist, you play a vital role, but each team member also needs to evolve with the new roles and responsibilities to help obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) sufferers.
Let’s take a look at each staff member’s role in dental sleep medicine at your dental office:
Front Office Staff
The process begins with the first phone call someone makes—whether the patient was recently diagnosed or if the patient simply walks through the door. After all, the front office staff is the face of the office—patients will be greeted at every visit. There are two pathways for patients: One is identifying a patient in the dental office and sending out for a diagnosis, while the other is referred from a sleep doctor or comes in via your advertising efforts. Remember, if they come to the dentist for services, then an order from an MD is required before oral appliance fabrication can be completed. Due to this, the front office holds an important role and must fax a request or educate the patient of the need for a referral from an MD.
Beginning with the initial phone call, the front office team will ask patients who are referred to the office to bring a copy of their sleep study, medical insurance information, and any other important information needed. To better understand the process, front office staff team members should seek continuing education. In order to receive education on their role in dental sleep medicine, these staff members can visit Nierman Practice Management for more information.
No team member goes unneeded in the dental office. Once a patient is a candidate for oral appliance therapy, verification and, in some cases, preauthorization are initiated to determine benefits of coverage for treatment. This is where the billing coordinator steps in. The billing coordinator is essential in the treatment process to ensure every patient receives the appropriate benefits they deserve as determined by their insurance.
Education on billing can also be gathered from Nierman Practice Management, as well as understanding the utilization of DentalWriter Software, which allows data gathering, examination findings, and generation of letters for referral sources and medical insurance companies. Billing training is also available at Lyonsgate Practice Management and other such organizations. By obtaining proper training, the billing coordinator can establish proper referral, communication, and medical billing protocols, which are more than just completing and sending claims.
Dental hygienists can save lives, too! Typically, hygienists are looking for and eradicating periodontal diseases, while improving their patients’ overall oral health. At the same time, hygienists perform an array of other dental duties, including looking for cavities, oral health education, and screening for oral cancer. As the first person your patients meet once in the dental chair, hygienists offer recommendations based on a patient’s individual needs, which might include advice on screening to rule out a sleep breathing issue.
While OSA is not the first thing that comes to mind when visiting the dentist, the area of dental sleep medicine continues to advance. Initial screenings might identify patients who snore, feel tired all the time, or know someone who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, yet never sought treatment. By screening and asking questions, dental hygienists will bring their findings to the dentist for further discussion—creating an opportunity for treatment and the possibility of a referral to a sleep physician.
In order to help identify patients who might suffer from sleep apnea, dental hygienists must complete continuing education. Currently, the only comprehensive education that is available for dental hygienists in the area of dental sleep medicine is through Nierman Practice Management (a list of lectures can be found on its website). Once a dental hygienist has received proper education and training in sleep apnea, it is impossible to ignore the signs and symptoms of this potentially deadly condition.
Working closely with the dentist is the dental assistant. The role of the dental assistant is just as important as the dentist’s role: the assistant helps the dentist by charting his findings, getting impressions, and assisting in capturing the bite—this is the starting position for the oral appliance. Once the oral appliance is delivered to the office, the dental assistant will fit the device or assist the dentist in fitting it, providing instruction on device care, and informing patients on when and how to wear it.
The role of the dental assistant is important, as they will work closely with the dentist and patient throughout the sleep apnea treatment process. To complete this role, a dental assistant will need to seek continuing education courses to become better equipped for understanding dental sleep medicine in the dental office. These courses are also available with Nierman Practice Management—your entire dental team can complete their training together!
The dentist has two roles in dental sleep medicine: after examination, to discuss with the patient that they may have a condition that needs to be tested; and determining if a patient is a candidate for oral appliance therapy. Dentists will be recommending either that patients visit a sleep doctor for diagnosis, or that treatment be based on a referral from a medical doctor, which is where the front office staff comes into play. If a patient is a candidate for oral appliance therapy, then the dentist will educate the patient on the therapy.
Dentists can receive continuing education at various places. These include the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, Nierman Practice Management, Tufts University, University of California Los Angeles, and others. With the availability of fresh, new classes and lectures, you can take the next step in improving your practice by including dental sleep medicine.
To become a better provider, completing continuing education courses is a must. By completing courses and lectures in dental sleep medicine, you can offer your patients further services and resources to better meet their individual needs. And, while you are attending continuing education courses, so can your entire staff!
Each member of the dental team plays a vital role in implementing dental sleep medicine. From the dentist to the front office staff, it is important to understand and execute your new roles when providing dental sleep medicine services for patients. With the unique opportunity to diagnose and treat sleep apnea, dentists should consider continuing education not only for themselves, but their entire dental staff as well.
Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS, is owner of Atlanta’s Craniofacial Pain and Dental Sleep Center of Georgia and a consultant to those who want to better understand their role in dental sleep medicine, craniofacial pain, and TMD treatment. Learn more at www.mpateldds.com.