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Thursday Troubleshooter: Should this dental practice open on Saturdays?

April 21, 2016
What are the pros and cons of this dental practice opening on Saturdays? The experts help them decide whether or not it's worth their time to add Saturday hours.

Do you have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed? Each week the experts on Team Troubleshooter will tackle those issues and provide you with answers. Send questions to [email protected].

QUESTION: We are considering opening our dental practice on some Saturdays or perhaps every Saturday. We would appreciate hearing about the experiences of practices that have opened on Saturdays. What are the benefits and what should we watch out for?

ANSWER FROM CHRISTINA BLATCHFORD, Blatchford Solutions: This is a good question. When adding hours, you need to look at your purpose for adding a day. Examine your concept of capacity vs. demand. Capacity is the number of days of patient care, and demand is how many patients you have to fill those spaces. When you add supply, you do not necessarily increase demand, meaning, opening on Saturday does not mean an increase in patients without additional marketing efforts.

Are you booked to goal on days you’re currently open? How long do people need to wait for a new patient appointment? If answer to “are you booked” is no, then adding a Saturday will just spread your current production into another day, which is not a good choice. For the new patient waiting period, we like to see new patient appointments available within two weeks or less. If scheduling new patients is not a challenge in your office, then adding a Saturday may not be the best choice.

Other important items to consider are: Who will staff Saturdays? Will you continue to find the best team if you offer Saturdays? Will you and your team take a Monday off if you work Saturdays? The team, including the doctor, needs to reenergize by taking time away from the office. You’re all better performers when you’re rested and rejuvenated.

What you choose to do now will brand your office for the future. Again, what is your purpose? Do you want to be known for Saturday appointments?

Saturdays can be a good day for people who aren’t able to take time off during the week. Emergencies can be a big part of a Saturday, however, we typically see changes in schedules depending on the weather. You may have a completely booked Saturday, but a bright sunny day may lead to lots of cancellations, and your staff will have missed a beautiful day. If you decide on Saturdays, do it slowly and consider opening one Saturday a month. If it is consistently booked to goal, then add more Saturdays.

ANSWER FROM SHELLEY RENEE, Shelley Renee Consulting:
That’s a great question with a simple answer. Saturdays can work if you’re clear about your expectation of the day and you set it up to accomplish your goal. Ask yourself, why are you adding the day? Is there a demand to accommodate patients’ work schedules? Is this an overflow outlet? How will you set up the day? Will it be for doctor and hygiene or large cases only? Will you be able to find the day with staffing you need without going into overtime?

I did a small poll of some dental spouses and the feedback was positive. The offices generally started with one Saturday a month and this day filled up quickly. Patients love the opportunity to get in without missing work. One practice used Saturday only for large cases with the doctor and one assistant. Other practices found success for the hygiene overflow. Test your area and see what your practice can support.

Specific issues to watch out for are resistance from team members about working on the weekend, and some increase in cancellations, particularly during the summer months. If you’re open to the idea and have a plan in place for staffing it can work out well for you.

Opening during non-traditional business hours, including Saturdays, makes it easier for some patients to visit your practice. While Levin Group never specifically recommends the expansion of hours for clients, Saturday or evening hours do create an image of convenience for many patients.

The benefit of Saturday hours is that patients can be offered appointment times when they are more likely to show up without having to take off time from work or skip lunch. A practice could be open one Saturday per month or every Saturday, depending on patient demand and the goals of the doctor.

The downside of Saturday hours is that they often have a higher no-show rate. Families today are extremely busy, and the no-show, last-minute cancellation rate will go up when the weather is nice or when the kids have activities that hadn’t initially been considered.

If you decide to open on Saturdays, emphasize to patients that these hours are special and, if a conflict occurs, they should give at least 48 hours’ notice when canceling. One other thought is to use Saturdays for a higher volume of shorter appointments so that more patients can be accommodated.

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