Ask Linda Miles questions

Dec. 16, 2011
Linda Miles answers a question from a scheduling coordinator who is physically ill from trying to keep them filled.

Question — I'm the Scheduling Coordinator and it's my job to keep the schedule filled each day. Lately it is becoming more and more difficult to do. I actually feel ill most days when I leave the office. Are others experiencing this too?

Answer — A slower economic climate certainly adds stress to keeping a full schedule, and I feel sorry for those who are stressing over this problem, which is real (more so in some parts of the country than others). But the economy should not be used as an excuse. Just as in better times, not all patients are reliable. But we can encourage a very large portion of our patients to be more so with "systems" in place. These are some of the causes and solutions for open chair time. List in order, (1 being least and 7 being strongest) as to why you have this problem.

  1. A lack of communication on the doctor and team's part to each patient outlining the value of the next appointment while they are in the chair that day. "An appointment will never become more important to the patient than it seems to you".
  2. You have a habit of moving an already scheduled patient to fill an opening in the schedule for today or tomorrow. Remember this phrase: "When you change them, they change themselves". It is the kiss of death to move patients unless by patient request: "I will take the 3 p.m. appointment next Thursday but if anything opens up later in the day, please let me know".
  3. Misguided communication. If the bottom of your appointment card says: "If unable to keep this appointment please give us a 24 hour notice" no wonder you have failed appointments. Few people look forward to their dental appointment. Give them an "easy out" and you are actually inviting them to change or fail the appointment. The card should say: This time has been reserved just for you. Consider this card your confirmation. The courtesy confirmations, by a company such as Smile Reminders is an adjunct to a positively worded appointment card. Remind the company that you use positive words, which bring positive results!
  4. Not having a strong PENDING APPOINTMENT system. Every dental software system has a backup for patients who don't know their schedule and leave without appointing. Or the patient who had an appointment but calls to cancel at the last minute. Make this your golden rule: No patient leaves our practice without their next appointment! If they don't make an appointment they go into the pending file. Time of treatment/provider/length of appointment time/treatment in detail. Use that information to fill openings within five minutes of the happening.
  5. Weak verbal skills at the desk. If you allow patients to easily change or cancel an appointment, they become repeat offenders. The tone of voice should always be friendly but firm! Saying. "Oh Mr. Walker, are you sure you can't be here this afternoon. I have reserved the doctor's entire late afternoon for you and it would be impossible for me to fill the doctor's time on short notice". When you become more proactive, yet remain also very nice, it's amazing how much better your results.
  6. Keeping patients waiting too long in the reception area, clinical arena or in the hygiene chairs for a patient exam. "People count up the faults of those who keep them waiting". They will respect your time to the exact degree they feel you respect their time.
  7. Poor financial control. If your practice does not make it easy to do business with the patients, by offering solid and patient-friendly financial options, they will break appointments! Having patient account balances is a financial weakness..."Patients who owe you money don't like you, don't refer to you and break appointments." They are either embarrassed about their account balance or they don't want to add to that unpaid balance. If practices offered patient financing as a primary option, what a difference in case acceptance and kept appointments. And as I tell my clients: "90 to 93% of something is better than 100% of nothing".

Question — Our office has a Queen Bee. She calls herself the LEAD Assistant because she has been here the longest. Our doctor can't keep a second chairside assistant as this Queen Bee finds fault with them and literally runs them off after several months. Our doctor knows she is the problem but refuses to do anything about it. In fact he defends her to the rest of the team.

Answer — This is a common problem in many practices. There is only one person who can put a stop to this behavior and the loss of other team members ... and that's the boss! Until the leader sees this problem, it will not be resolved. Due to your doctor ignoring or refusing to confront the issue, Queen Bee's wings are getting stronger by the day! Typically these "favored few" are good at what they do....and that's the reason for the self appointed status and why they are still there. And it's also most likely the reason the doctor hopes it will mend itself or just dissolve.

This Queen Bee has the doctor thoroughly convinced that his or her practice will surely fail without them on the team...when just the opposite is true. I don't believe in firing employees as much as I believe they should have 30 or 60 days to change their behavior or the doctor will help them find a job they will be more suited for.

PS: Queen Bees never resign as they would have zero power in another practice as the new employee. The doctor must confront the issue, put this person on a thirty day trial after documenting specific issues, give that person an opportunity to remain part of the team...but let them know in writing what will change, effective immediately. I've seen a complete 180 turn around for many confronted team embers and I've seen some who could not remove their wings; so they moved on...The morale issues caused by favoritism is about three times that person's annual wages. So the question is: Doctor, can you afford to keep a Queen Bee? The answer is NO. Because no matter how great their skills, they are holding your practice back.

Linda Miles is the founder of Linda Miles & Associates (Now Miles Global). She started the The Speaking Consulting Network in 1997. To contact her, click here or call (757) 721-3125.