It’s no secret that the backlog of patients needing dental treatment and the shortage of dental hygienists have made it extremely difficult for offices to manage their daily schedules. Patients sometimes must wait weeks or months for dental visits, while dentists are having a hard time expanding their staff to accommodate the demand.
One day there may be two or three cancellations that are impossible to fill, while the next there are no openings for six to seven months. It’s time-consuming and challenging for everyone on the dental team to juggle such a chaotic schedule, so how do we battle the constant ebb and flow? Here are four dos and don’ts you can use to regain control of your schedule.
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No. 1: Do schedule strategically
Patients who have a history of last-minute cancellations, no-showing, or showing up significantly late should not be offered prime appointment times. Just as we respect our patients’ time, they should respect ours as well. Flag patients in the schedule who are habitually late and allow some cushion time. For example, if appointments run on the hour, offer your patient a 9:40 a.m. time, but schedule the appointment for 10 a.m. Send reminders to patients who routinely no-show or cancel; let them know it’s time to schedule their appointment as it gets closer to their recall time. Don’t schedule prime appointment times further out than seven months, and encourage alternative times for problem patients.
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No. 2: Do utilize block scheduling
We all know that a full day of recare appointments is not as productive for the practice as a day that contains scaling and periodontal maintenance appointments. For hygienists, there’s nothing more frustrating than having a schedule that doesn’t allow for the proper treatment of periodontal disease. In the schedule, use blocks designated for certain appointment types. This not only allows for greater production, but it also makes it easier for patients to get desired appointments and recommended treatment within a reasonable period of time. The number of blocks is determined by the demand of the schedule. Thoroughly analyze the needs of your existing and new/incoming patients. Blocks should only be offered for an alternative appointment if it is not filled two days prior.
No. 3: Don’t overdo appointment reminders
Patient communication software and systems are convenient and helpful, but we’ve all experienced a lack of response to automated reminders; this can result in phone tag and the need for verbal confirmations. The task of confirming appointments is time-consuming. It takes away from other priorities and is a frustrating process for all parties involved. Ask patients if they require appointment reminders. Then, send out reminders two weeks prior to their designated appointment time and two days prior. Phone calls should be a last resort. If they become necessary, keep verbiage concise and firm, and try phrases such as, “We have you on the schedule for (date and time) and look forward to seeing you.” Avoid giving the patient an easy opportunity to reschedule. To discourage cancellations, try instituting office policies that include fees as a deterrent.
No. 4: Don’t let insurance dictate the schedule
Strive to educate patients on the importance and necessity of dental treatment regardless of their insurance status. While we want them to utilize their benefits (if possible), patients also need to understand that ultimately they are responsible for understanding their insurance policy—and that treatment is necessary regardless of what insurance says. Utilize financial policies, treatment planning/presenting techniques, and verbal confirmation when checking in your patients. Take time to create value in the treatment you provide.
Managing a schedule day-to-day is challenging. Multiple things can affect the schedule, so regaining control will take some in-depth analysis of the patient demographic and needs in your practice. Adjustments may occasionally be needed, but in the long run, regaining control of the practice schedule will not only benefit your patients, but it will boost office productivity and benefit the bottom line.