Purpose: This paper presents business characteristics of ten experimental independent dental hygiene practices operating in California between 1987 and 1990. Sixteen dental hygienists participated in the experiment, the Health Manpower Pilot Project 139 (HMPP 139). HMPP 139 dental hygienists wanted to work independently in traditional office-based settings, institutional settings, and other arrangements. They worked in group and solo practices, on a full- or part-time basis.
Methods: Data were collected from the HMPP 139 practices on services provided, patient visits, fees charged, referrals to dentists, acceptance of Medicaid patients, and services to organizational clients. Data collection methods varied, depending on the question addressed. Surveys of dentists' offices provided data on fees and Medicaid policies for comparison with the independent dental hygiene practices.
Results: All experimental practices attracted new patients for each quarter in operation. These practices mostly provided prophylaxis treatments; however, a wide variety of services was provided. Fees charged in HMPP 139 office-based practices were less than comparable fees charged in dentists' offices. At least one-third of patients in the HMPP 139 office-based settings received a referral to or an opinion about a dentist from the dental hygienist. HMPP 139 practices were more available to Medicaid patients than were California dentists offices. Each experimental independent practice provided care to at least one client in a nontraditional setting.
Conclusions: The HMPP 139 practices consistently attracted new patients. This suggests independent practice for dental hygienists may be a viable and flexible alternative if the practices can stabilize total patients at a sufficiently high level. An independent practice alternative might increase access to care, contain fees, and direct the flow of patients to dentists. Further study is needed to test these findings.