Patient scheduling is a balancing act. The economics of the practice calls for filling as many openings as possible to keep the dentist(s) and hygienist(s) as productive as possible. Yet over-scheduling can create missed opportunities to realize efficiencies, attract new patients, and keep existing patients on track to complete the work they need for optimal dental health.
When the office schedules strategically, team members best serve patients. Delays impact patient satisfaction, especially for those who’ve taken time away from work to make their appointments. It may also impact the quality of care the team provides. Stress and time pressure increase error rates and can make even the most cheerful practitioner less than congenial with patients. Moreover, they may be tempted to rush through discussions of dental issues and treatment options and miss the opportunity to gain agreement on a plan going forward.
While the back office may be able to accomplish heroic feats with a schedule that’s less than optimal, why not put in the time to implement proven strategies and make life easier for patients, front office personnel and practitioners?
Proper scheduling begins with effective communication between the front office and the back office. Schedulers need to understand how the practitioners manage their workloads. They need guidelines for how much time to schedule for procedures, and a sense for anticipated follow-up to allow for an appropriate number of openings in the schedule to attend to those needs in a timely manner. The greater the delay between the presentation of the dental treatment plan and the scheduling of the first follow-up appointment, the more likely the patient will opt out of getting the work done.
The front office also needs to leave an appropriate number of appointments available for new patients. If the office has the good fortune to garner interest for their services, they need to be in a position to address them quickly. Otherwise, the prospective patient could simply call another office to schedule an appointment. A welcoming and responsive approach to new patients is especially important given that a large percentage of them typically find their way to the office via referral.
Good communication is crucial if the office implements new programs to serve patients. For example, if hygienists take a more proactive approach to periodontal treatment, appointment times may lengthen or require multiple sessions to accommodate treatment plans. Likewise, if the dentist leverages the four quadrant approach to address patients who face significant dental restoration, the schedule will need to accommodate longer blocks of reserved time.
In addition to effective communication, office staff should get in the habit of planning ahead. This planning exercise needs to take into account the lead time the office needs to fill openings and building a quality short-call list.
It’s important to implement systems and procedures to improve office productivity while still balancing the needs of patients and staff.
Meet the Author
Dental Practice Consultant
Karen Burnett, RDH, MA
Aldrich CPAs + Advisors LLP
For Karen Burnett, enthusiasm for dentistry includes over 30 years of experience ranging from dental assisting and dental hygiene to more than 12 years of experience in dental practice coaching. She takes pride in providing results-oriented business solutions, using a tailored approach for the growth of individuals and teams. She is skilled in internal and…
- Dental business management
- Hygiene program profitability and analysis
- Treatment presentation and incomplete treatment follow-up
- New patient recruitment and retention
- Practice administration
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