As more practices introduce Treatment Coordinators (TCOs), Business Development Manager, Shelley Clegg, spoke to Rebecca Copeland, who was one of the first people in the country to gain the Level 3 BTEC Advanced Diploma in Dental Care Coordination, about her role and how it benefits both practice and patients.
SC: How did you come to take on the role of a TCO, Rebecca?
RC: I started as a dental nurse around 1996 when I left college. I’ve been here at The Old Surgery in Crewe for about 23 years now. But over that time, I started as a dental nurse here, then moved on to retrain as a hygienist and therapist. I did that for a few years but decided it wasn’t really for me. And then got the opportunity to look at treatment coordination.
The course was modular, so we completed the modules at our own pace over a period of time. So, once you’ve completed the first module you then move onto the next one, and so on. I think I completed the course within about 12 months.
SC: Some TCOs are only given on the job training. What benefit do you think you got from studying for the qualification?
RC: I think that the qualification gives you background as to why you do things. A bit of the theory behind things I suppose. And also, some things to think about.
It helps you to look at why we’re doing things, why and how people interact and what we’ve got to take into consideration when we’re talking to patients. I think that’s really important because sometimes when you just have on-the-job training, you can be too focused on what you do within your own practice. But you need to look at it from the patient’s perspective as well. You need to have that background knowledge to know how the patient thinks about things.
For example, when dentists are explaining about treatments, it’s very easy for the dentist to be able to explain what they want to do and how things work. However, they don’t always think about how the patients are hearing that information and whether they are understanding that information as well. And I think the TCO qualification makes you think outside the box a little bit. It encourages you to think about what we have to take into consideration when we’re dealing with patients.
I think the qualification has made me more rounded as a TCO.
SC: What was it about treatment coordination that appealed to you originally and keeps you in the job now?
RC: As a TCO, you’re still dealing with patients and you’re still involved in the patient journey, but less so from a clinical point of view and I think I liked that a little bit more. I still do some clinical work now, as I work with the implant surgeon but it’s a nice combination and I find that I really enjoy the administrative role more than the clinical one.
I have a few roles within the TCO role. Firstly, I offer consultation appointments for patients. So if somebody is interested in looking at a particular type of treatment, for example, brace options, they can come in and find out a little bit more about what we can offer but without necessarily having to see the dentist initially. So, they can find out about time scales, costings, the different brace options and so on. And I think that’s important because sometimes when patients do see a dentist, he or she doesn’t always have time to be able to explain things fully. Or possibly patients feel like they can’t ask all the questions they might have. I think often we feel more comfortable asking somebody who isn’t a dentist what can be done. So, I would have a consultation appointment for any of the treatment options that are available here.
I also liaise with any patients seeing a dentist for the first time as well. So, I gather some information and make sure they haven’t got any questions before they see the dentist. And then we have follow-on appointments from there. So, once they’ve seen a dentist I can have follow up meetings to discuss findings of assessment appointments and what the treatment options are. And again, I’m that point of contact so that if they do have any questions or if they want to find out anything else about the treatments, they can do. They don’t necessarily have to speak to the dentist. This frees up the dentist’s time as it filters out those conversations that don’t necessarily need to have to be conducted in the surgery.
I also talk about finance options. So, once the dentist has discussed the clinical side of things, they will usually leave the room and then the patient and I can have a conversation about whether they want to spread the cost and how they’re going to do that. We give them the options and they can decide what they want to do from there. I would also talk about the membership schemes we offer. We do get a lot of enquiries about paying for things on a monthly basis so I would give that information out too. Usually, the hygienist or the dentist recommend which of the membership schemes is most suitable for each patient, but I give out the information and discuss the benefits of the membership schemes with patients.
Membership schemes, like Practice Plan, mean we get regular attenders. We class the membership schemes as a main way of spreading the cost for maintenance care. So once people are in a routine of coming to see us at the practice, they come regularly. It means they’re maintaining their dental health. And I think that’s a benefit to the practice as well as it makes life easier for us. It means we can spot potential problems sooner and prevent them becoming an issue for the patient.
SC: What benefit does a TCO role bring to the practice?
RC: I would say that from a treatment uptake point of view, the TCO role is really important. As I said before, the dentists don’t necessarily always have the time to be able to explain things to patients, to be able to talk through things like finance options. I think sometimes those barriers, where people are maybe a little bit concerned about what they’re having done or about how they’re going to spread the cost of treatment, the TCO is able to break them down. I think treatment uptake is better than if a dentist was working solely and an area a TCO can really add value.
SC: Thanks for explaining things, Rebecca.