6 scheduling tips from practice management experts

March 18, 2013
As part of the 100 words from 100 dental practice management experts in 100 words or less, dental practice management experts share their scheduling tips.

March 18, 2013

A hygiene department that is “holding its own” threatens a practice in two ways:

  • Marginal patient care
  • Marginal production

Unless you’re losing patients as fast as you’re gaining them, each year you should be adding hygiene appointments to your schedule. It could be that:

  • the doctor is not adequately promoting hygiene in the new patient appointment
  • the practice is not following up on patients who fall through the cracks, or
  • you’re plugging holes in hygiene with new patients, creating the illusion that holding your own is a good thing.

Identify and resolve your problem – for your patients and for your practice!
-Steve Cartin, Cartin Coaching, Cartin Coaching on Facebook

You can kill even the best schedule with these 10 culprits:

  1. Starting late at the beginning of the day or after lunch
  2. Not having lab work present
  3. Operatory not set up when patient enters
  4. Unexpected procedures or changing procedures
  5. Lack of a consistent “late patient” protocol
  6. Non-patient interruptions: phone calls, sales people, etc.
  7. Lack of expanded duties training and use
  8. No morning huddle to check for glitches in the schedule
  9. Doctor unable to move from room to room efficiently, getting too focused on one patient
  10. Doctor over-communicating and not delegating communication
-Linda Drevenstedt, Drevenstedt ConsultingThe most expensive thing in a dental office is an empty chair. To prevent broken appointments as much as possible, verbalize your broken appointment rule as a benefit statement when handing the patients their appointment card. It would sound like this: “We understand patients have changes in their schedule. In order to avoid a broken appointment fee, we kindly request 48 hours notice.” Rehearse this. I suggest making this statement as the appointment card is being given to the patient. Make this part of your routine as the elbow flexes to give the patient their appointment card.
-Laura Jamison, Jamison Consulting

We have made it simple for our dental patients to cancel without consequences by juggling the schedule in an attempt to keep up with daily changes, making it appear that it is acceptable to change appointments, and allowing our patients to cancel their appointments on our answering machines. A few solutions:

  • State the following on your answering machine: “If you would like to reschedule your appointment, please call during business hours so we may personally assist you.”
  • Develop a call list so that when an opening appears in the schedule you have an opportunity to fill it easily.
  • Don’t state you’ve had a cancellation. Say, “We’ve had a change in our schedule today and I immediately thought of you!”

-Jo-Anne Jones, RDH Connection

Do you follow the billing norm of most dental offices by sending patient statements out once or twice a month? My recommendation is to switch to daily statements. You may think that this would be too time intensive, but the opposite is the case. By dividing statements up into small, daily groupings, the daily process does not take long and is less daunting. In addition, it allows the staff member who handles the statements to look more closely at each account to determine if there are any problems. Of course, the most obvious benefit to daily statements is that it helps to keep the cash flow strong and consistent all month.
-Marianne Harper, The Art of Practice Management
A big challenge in today’s dental world is technology – the same technology that is the greatest invention ever, since it means automated recare reactivation! Sending patients emails and text messages or leaving telephone messages makes most scheduling coordinators wonder, “How do I get patients to respond?” In every practice, there’s a huge sub-practice of past-due hygiene and restorative care. Offer the first few patients who respond an opportunity to win an iPad or three-day cruise if their name is drawn each month. You won't have to call them – they will call you! That’s much cheaper than spending hundreds of hours calling and looking desperate.
-Linda Miles, Ask Linda Miles
Lauren Burns is the editor of Proofs magazine and the email newsletters RDH Graduate and Proofs. She is currently based out of New York City. Follow her on Twitter: @ellekeid.