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"I just want to do dentistry!" Is your schedule causing you frustration?

Oct. 28, 2013
Scheduling in the dental office can help or hinder the rest of the day

Rhonda R. Savage, DDS

Do unclear financial arrangements, inaccurate chart notes, or repeated scheduling mistakes make you just want to go home? Dentists often feel this way when there's a breakdown of communication, conflict, or drama in the dental office. Sometimes the frustrations of business management can make a dentist forget why he or she went to dental school.

In past years, I was on the admission committee for the University Of Washington School of Dentistry. Students applying to dental school would say, "I enjoy the science and precision of being an artist. It tests my patience and my eye for detail." Rarely would a student say, "I want to learn the personal skills of a business person. I want to be able to see the bigger picture while meeting the needs of the current situation."

The bigger picture of practice success begins with your schedule and understanding the needs and desires of your patients. Today’s patients are looking for timeliness, a relationship, friendliness, and a good atmosphere. In addition, they're shopping for price now more than ever before. But, women are twice as likely to shop up if they perceive that value exists. Value starts on the phone and in the back. Making patients wait affects value. They say, "I love him as a dentist, but I hate the wait!"

Timeliness can be a problem of inappropriate scheduling. Getting behind, however, can also be an issue caused in the back — too much talking, slowness by the team member, or the doctor 'adding on treatment.' Have you ever met Dr. Add On? Same day dentistry is important, but only if you meet two criteria — your regularly scheduled patient doesn't wait, and the patient can pay.

In this article I’ll pick on everyone equally and address the timeliness of your practice. How realistic is your schedule? Does your front desk team say, "It's not our fault." Here is a tool that will give you an objective look at one of the most difficult jobs in dentistry — effective scheduling.

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A time and motion study

The week prior to your team meeting, ask each team member, including you, the doctor, to carry a paper copy of the day's schedule with them at all times. A paper copy will allow the team to jot quick notes as they measure time. The front desk should make notes on their schedule anytime a patient is kept waiting in the reception area, beyond the normal scheduled time. The clinical assistants and hygienists should make a note of anytime a patient waited in their chair “unnecessarily.”

A “necessary” wait time would be for such things as anesthesia or laboratory time to polish a temporary or night guard. Also, notes should be made as to why the situation happened. The doctor should make a note of anytime he or she feels too rushed, stressed, or if a procedure took too long. Everyone should make a note of their perception of why the schedule didn't work.

At your team meeting, use the schedules to objectively discuss what worked and what didn't. Agree in advance that no one will become defensive or upset, it’s simply an objective look at a difficult job. What changes need to be made? What's working well and what's not?

I recommend you talk at each team meeting about any patient concerns, frustrations, or ways to become more efficient. Your focus must be to meet the needs of patients and focus on the practice's health. To do this, ask yourself two questions — "Is whatever is happening in the best interest of the patient?" and "Is whatever is happening in the best interest of the practice, as a health practice?"

If the answer is no for one or both of these questions, the best leaders step up and say, "What do we need to change?" If your practice is ready for a change, read my chapter in the “Bushido Business” titled, "No Dogs, No Pony ... Just Results." This is nuts and bolts leadership for your dental practice.

Rhonda Savage, DDS, graduated from the University of Washington, School of Dentistry in 1989 with multiple honors. Dr. Savage was in private practice for 16 years, has authored many published peer-reviewed articles, and has lectured internationally. She is the chief executive officer of Miles Global, founded by Linda L. Miles. Contact Dr. Savage at [email protected].