New dental patient appointment scheduling and filters

Tips to effectively schedule new patients

Brady Article 3 24

One of the challenges of running a dental practice is creating systems to effectively and efficiently schedule new patients. Effectiveness for me is defined by the percentage of new patient phone calls that result in a scheduled appointment, and the percentage of the scheduled appointments that result in an actual appointment. Efficiency is about both the logistics of the call and the scheduling process, and contributes to the effectiveness.

I have learned over the years that developing any system begins by answering three fundamental questions — why, what, and how. The temptation is to go directly to “how” without understanding the “why” and the “what,” and this can result in a system that will inevitably break down and not meet expectations. “Why” is about the philosophy of your practice. Are you trying to grow a small, fee for service, restorative practice that specializes, or are you aiming to grow a large multidoctor general practice? “What” answers, “what do I want this system to accomplish” and will fulfill your “why.” The last part of the puzzle is “how,” and now we build in the logistics in order to accomplish the “what.”

In addition, we also have to balance our practice vision with the reality of running a successful business today. Each of us has an obligation as a business owner to our team, our patients, and ourselves. The current realities of my business do not alter my vision or what I am trying to accomplish, but create systems that are possible.

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As an example, my personal goal is to build a fee for service restorative practice with a mix of patients needing complex and general care. What I want my new patient process to accomplish is getting patients to complete a comprehensive exam. How we schedule new patients is based on my current business reality using a concept of filters. In a practice with more time than patients we open the filter and use less stringent scheduling guidelines.

In my office we currently have excess hygiene openings. When new patients call we schedule them quickly into the hygiene schedule, and if possible into my schedule for a comprehensive exam. If there is a hygiene opening that is available and no corresponding time on my book, we still schedule the new patient. Now my teams’ job is to invite the patient back for a more comprehensive exam based on what we discover at the first appointment, and we go over this at our morning huddle. In this way we are not filtering out possible great new patients by making them wait, or by requiring a two-hour appointment with comprehensive exam.

The other possibility is to have more patients than time. In this case you should tighten your filters and allow your new patient scheduling to select the people most likely to fit your practice vision. One way we do this in my office is by asking new patients what they believe to be their current dental needs. Patients who have significant needs are scheduled with me for a comprehensive exam within a few days of their call. Patients who believe they only need hygiene are offered our first new patient appointment for “healthy” patients, which may be weeks out. It is possible with this process that some of the healthy new patients may decide not to schedule because of the wait, and I could miss out on meeting some great people with true dental needs. The premise is that this system applies when the schedule is full, and we are able to be more selective with new patient scheduling and still meet our business goals.

In my experience all practices experience ebb and flow with the schedule and the number of new patient calls. The “how” of this process is training your team members to evaluate when to use a tighter or a looser filter based on the schedule for the next two to six weeks. In this way they can modulate the scheduling system to always keep pace with the business needs of the office and never compromise on goals and expectations around the office vision.

Dr. Lee Ann Brady earned her DMD degree from the University of Florida College of Dentistry. Her practice experience has been rich and varied. For 17 years, she worked in a variety of practice models from small, fee-for-service offices to large, insurance-dependent practices as an associate and a practice owner. She was invited to join The Pankey Institute in January 2005 as its first female resident faculty member and was promoted to clinical director within a year. She was asked by Dr. Frank Spear to join him in the formation of Spear Education and the expansion of his curriculum in September 2008 as executive vice president of clinical education. This year, Dr. Brady launched her website, www.leeannbrady.com, to offer clinical and practice content daily. In addition to being a dedicated educator, she maintains a private practice in Glendale, Ariz.

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