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Quick Tips for Dental Practice Scheduling

The following is a guest post by Debbie Seidel-Bittke. If you are interested in guest posting for Dental Heroes, please sign up here.

Prioritize Your Schedule

A full schedule translates into revenues and production only if the patients come in. If a practice loses 1 to 2 appointments/day, either on the hygienist’s schedule or on the dentist’s schedule, the lost production from this could be anywhere from $100 (minimally) to $900 per day, depending upon the procedure. These are dollar figures for clients and dental offices during the year 2009. Let’s assume you have 200 working days during the year, the annual lost production works out to $20,000 at the low end to $180,000 at the high end. Take into account that you lose even $20,000.00 over the next 5 years. This is $100,000.00 which can be used in many areas for a successful and profitable dental practice. Think about your salary being reduced by this much. This can really hurt a dental practice!

These figures are for a solo practitioner, with one full-time hygienist. The figures multiply for a multi-doctor office, or for a solo practitioner with more than one hygienist. Improving practice performance in this one area alone could significantly improve the financial status of many dental practices.

Practice success depends on the strength of a strategically planned schedule. It is important to have a systematic method for scheduling patients. On a daily basis, the entire dental team probably spends much of their day discussing and dealing with the topic of appointments: cancellations, broken appointments, and no-shows. This is a big source of endless frustration. No-shows and cancellations are the biggest single source of lost revenue.

It is helpful to be proactive, have a strategic approach and design a systematic schedule. Having a system in place will decrease the level of stress and increase revenue in your dental practice.

Stephen Covey, author of many professional management and family management planning books has said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

Your first thought may be that is seems impossible to create the ideal dental practice schedule. Every dentist and most auxiliaries practice on different days, each professional may have different hours, they will provide treatment at different speeds and they will offer different services. All successful dental practices will take account for all these scheduling variables. Having a scheduling system is what creates success in all areas of the dental practice.

Effective Schedule Systems

When you have an effective scheduling system the doctor and team are now in charge of managing the patient flow. The patient flow should not manage the team.

Think of the schedule as the center of all dental practice systems. This is one system that will significantly decrease stress. When the team manages the schedule it will become efficient and predictable. This is where productivity will create increased revenues quickly.

Six tips to help you manage your practice’s scheduling

1. Use 10-minute units
Using 15 minute increments on the schedule costs the practice approximately seven days of treatment time every year. This means the doctors are working that much harder and not smarter. When you change the practice schedule to 10-minute units you are able to schedule procedures with a higher degree of accuracy. When you utilize 10-minute units of time the practice can schedule a 20-minute procedure with ease. With 15-minute units, the procedure must be scheduled either with not enough time (15 minutes) or too much (30 minutes). Ten-minute units will now offer greater flexibility and result in increased productivity.

2. Create a template for each operatory
Every 10 minute unit needs to be put into the schedule in advance. A schedule built on a 10-minute template outlines exactly how every 10-minute increment will be used for each operatory. Doctor and the auxiliaries need to take a look at the 10 minute units first. This is how they will know how each day is going to flow. This needs to be reviewed even before the team huddle begins.

3. Schedule by production
Again this allows you to take control of the schedule and the schedule will not control you. When setting up your annual schedule template decide how much production you need to stay in the black. Decide what procedure blocks will be added and at what times on the schedule. Many practices make the mistake of scheduling by reactively filling empty time slots.

3. Be proactive. First things, First
Most people during the day have more energy and as the day progresses they tend to run out of steam. For many people the time after a lunch break seems to create a decrease in energy. Try having longer, more intensive treatment options in the morning. This is the time to fill the schedule with longer procedures and high-production cases.

When you have a strong scheduling system in place you have increased productivity and profitability. When you create a schedule with production as a priority you create harmony, less stress and help the practice meet all the daily goals; production and otherwise.

4. What is a “Perfect Day”?
It doesn’t need to be a calculus equation or statistics but there needs to be a strategic mathematical formula to make certain the practice meets their goals. It is best to schedule an average daily level of production which will be equal to your annual production goal. For example, if you want to produce 1.5 million in 200 days, you need to schedule $7,500 per day. This will include the hygiene schedule and doctor’s schedule. It is not realistic to produce this same number each day. The important part is the daily average.
Having “Perfect Day” schedules and daily production goals also tend to reduce practice stress because they allow doctors and their teams to achieve a consistent day-in day-out workload.

5. Your “Perfect Day” Schedule
It will increase efficiency when you schedule the doctors, hygienists and all auxiliaries separately. If you are utilizing an assisted hygiene model the hygiene assistant should also be scheduled into the 10 minute increments.

The doctor and assistant do not always need to be in the room together. This follows true especially when using an assisted hygiene model.

It may take a few weeks and a process of time but it will significantly increase the total office productivity, decrease stress, improve patient flow and increase the annual revenue.

6. Communication is the Key to Reduced Cancellations
It is the nature of business and life in general that there will be cancellations and no-shows. When scheduling tell patients that you are “reserving” this time specifically for them. Educate all patients about the importance and leave them feeling the urgency for reserving appointments prior to leaving the office.

When the front office is speaking with patients they need to request patients give 72 hours notice if they need to change an appointment. If patients need to change their appointment on Monday it doesn’t do the office any good to cancel an appointment on Saturday. This is why you need to ask for at least 72 hours cancellation.

Take time to retrain your patients about this policy if you don’t have this in place currently. Let patients know there will be a fee for a missed appointment. The fee needs to be dependent upon the type of procedure and should be written in all policies you publish to your patients. These policies are included in the new patient package. Appointment cards need to mention there is an appropriate fee charge for cancellations outside of the 72 hours.

Quick Overview

  • Schedule in 10-minute units, with a template for each operatory
  • Schedule the most productive procedures first by creating ideal day schedules with ideal production goals
  • Schedule longer and high end production early in the day
  • Schedule doctors and assistants separately
  • Build patient value for appointments to reduce no-shows and cancellations

You will create a more efficient and effective system for scheduling patients when you create your “Perfect Day” schedule. The bottom line is harmony in the office, value to the patients, improved productivity, increased revenues and reduced stress. It is a “win-win” that creates success!

Do you need guidance setting this up? Do you know how many days and hours you actually need on the schedule? Please contact us for a free assessment. Find the answers to these questions, lower your overhead and increase your revenue.

Reader Comments

  1. Jessica March 17th

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    There is a lot of good advice in this article: I especially like your point about scheduling assistants and dentists separately. I also feel your point about building patient value for appointments is a good tip – no-shows and cancellations can throw off even the most tightly run office.

    However, if a dentist’s office is going to put so much value on an efficient schedule, I recommend using ScheduleThing for online scheduling. Our software has everything you’d expect from an online booking site (real-time updates, a detailed calendar, automated email reminders, etc), but what sets it apart is its customization. You can set up each of your reservation types so that they require certain resources – so, in the case of your article, you could set up high-end production appointments so that they need to have a certain room and tools. This also works for your staff. Certain people can be assigned to certain type of appointments, making it easy to make schedules that alternate with each type of worker you employ. And finally, this can also be used as an external booking site as well. Patients can log on and make appointments on their own, and log in any cancelations they have. This reduces no-shows, and also helps patients feel a larger sense of ownership/commitment to their appointment. Overall, the system is very easy to use, and great for both small and large offices. I highly recommend it!

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