12 keys to scheduling success

Feb. 13, 2012
Consultant Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS, offers 12 essential pointers for making your scheduling system more productive.

By Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS

Reprinted with permission from Linda Drevenstedt.

1. Use these basic guidelines:

  • Set up the computer with columns equal to the number of treatment rooms. 5 operatories = 5 columns. Patients go into the rooms shown on the schedule. An extra column can be used for your treatment coordinator.
  • Use 10-minute units for the schedule.

2. Schedule patients to meet practice goals.
Set daily or hourly goals for EACH provider. Once a goal is reached consistently, new goals should be set every three to six months. Base your goals on your history over the past six months. Average your daily or hourly production and add to it to make the goal.

3. Track production daily and compare to your goals.
Use a production tracking form and report progress toward goals each day at your morning huddle.

4. Preblock your schedule.
Preblock with productive procedures to meet your goals. Preblock enough time to meet at least 75% of your goal with primary care. You may call it rocks, green procedures — this includes all the procedures such as crowns for dentists and perio for hygienists — that are core to making your goal.

5. Know your REAL time for procedures.
Conduct a two-week time audit to be sure you KNOW the correct chairtime for all procedures. The time should include the real time for your room change-over, including the OSHA regulated steps. Once the time audit is complete, post and use the correct times. If you are unhappy with the REAL times, begin to work toward more efficient delivery.

6. Use your routing slips.
This is the one piece of paper that still serves many purposes. Mainly, it is the chief way the clinical staff communicates to the front office team about procedures completed today, the next procedure needed, and the time needed for the procedure.

7. Avoid 10 schedule killers.
You and your team will kill even the best schedule with these culprits:

  • Starting late at the beginning of the day or after lunch.
  • Lab work missing.
  • Operatory not set up with all instruments and materials and ready to go when the doctor enters.
  • Unexpected procedures, changing procedures.
  • Lack of a consistent "late patient" protocol.
  • Non-patient interruptions: phone calls, doctor answering email, salespeople, etc.
  • Lack of expanded duties training/use.
  • Materials or equipment crisis.
  • Doctor unable to move from room to room efficiently, getting hyper-focused on one patient.
  • Doctor over-communicating and not delegating communication.

8. Know how to schedule emergency patients.
Emergency patients have a right to receive treatment at the convenience of the practice. Emergency patients scheduled in a way that can delay the treatment of regular patients, cause an office to have to reschedule regular patients, and run behind are schedule killers. The following are the only emergencies that should interrupt your regular schedule:

  • There is trauma from a recent accident.
  • The patient is actively bleeding.
  • Acute, severe recent onset pain.
  • You have a dentist and a chair preblocked for emergency care.

Otherwise, all emergency patients are given a specific time to come in. Review the schedule each morning with the doctor or assistant to determine the best time to see an emergency patient.

9. Always preblock time for your new patients.
Appoint the nonemergency new patients for the type of appointment they most want — either with the hygienist or with the dentist. Give patients what they request. New patients need to be seen within seven to 10 days of their call. If you do not preblock time into the hygiene schedule for your new patients, the recall patients will fill the schedule and you will be putting the new patient on a call list ... which is poor marketing.

10. Keep broken appointments under control.
Last-minute cancellations and changes can kill your most productive schedule. You must have a tactful, firm, professional, yet compassionate, stand about changes and cancellations. If you do not have people at your business office who can keep the cancellations under control, you may need to make a change. You cannot afford to pay your team when patients take advantage of you with short-notice cancellations. Set expectations early with your patients. Be sure the DOCTOR and the clinical staff emphasize the importance of keeping appointments, and request a minimum of 24 hours’ notice for any changes.

11. Confirm appointments with the newest electronic methods.
Burger King™ says, "Have it your way." You want to communicate to your patients their way. Find out your patients' preferred method of receiving reminders and confirming their appointments: email, text, call, card. Use one — use all — but be sure you get reminders out for hygiene two weeks ahead and then 48 hours ahead. There are plenty of electronic options including: Demandforce™, SmileReminders™, Sesame™, Lighthouse, TeleVox™. Find one that fits your practice.

12. Have an appointed "hawk" for the schedule.
Someone needs to take ultimate responsibility for a great and productive schedule. This cannot be left to chance or "we all do it." Someone should review the schedule each day in the morning and in the afternoon, looking one day and one week ahead to see if there are problems. With the advent of computer scheduling in the clinical area and more than one person making appointments, scheduling often gets done myopically. The "hawk" takes a long view to see if we are scheduled to goal AND are scheduled to run smoothly with no "train wrecks." Better to correct a problem in the schedule a week ahead than to merely confirm and live with a poor schedule.

Implement these 12 scheduling pointers and you will be more productive in 2012. If you need more in-depth information, there are 10 e-SSENTIAL e-modules available here. Make it a great 2012!

Author bio
Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS, is president of Drevenstedt Consulting, LLC. She uses her wit and wisdom to coach, consult, and create courses that assist practices in reaching their potential by developing leadership in each person. Her experience spans dental assisting, dental hygiene, practice administration, and consulting, and she is a member of numerous speaking, consulting, and management organizations. Reach her at (800) 242-7648, send her an email at [email protected], or visit www.drevenstedt.com.