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As a dentist and practice owner, you probably have a million things to do every day. It’s safe to say that while on most days you usually remember to do everything, there are days when things slip through the cracks. While it may not happen often, when it does it can cause frustration and throw your entire day into a tailspin. Unfortunately, things happen. You and your staff are only human, and there are limits to the human memory.
But what if you could compensate for those human limitations with something as simple as a daily checklist? In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande, surgeon and Harvard professor, details how a checklist can be a game changer when it comes to health care. After reading his book, I found it easy to see how checklists can help create incredible efficiency in any type of organization and be of great use to dental practices.
The magic of checklists
It seems obvious that surgeons always scrub properly before procedures. However, through his research, Dr. Gawande found that some surgeons were accidentally skipping steps that led to some level of infection and hospital deaths. To help, Dr. Gawande created checklists for surgeons to follow when scrubbing, which allowed them to simply follow the procedure step-by-step, without having to rely on their memory. As if by magic, the number of hospital deaths from infection declined.
After hearing about Dr. Gawande’s success with checklists, we began implementing them at dental practices within each practice system. The first system we tackled was scheduling. Mishandled schedules increase stress and decrease efficiency, production, and profit. If stress and chaos become too high, staff turnover will occur.
While we’re experts at creating and introducing new schedules to combat these issues, we began to notice dental staffs were skipping steps and making mistakes that were decreasing the effectiveness of the new scheduling system. This is where checklists came in. Using detailed scheduling checklists freed team members from having to depend on their memories and provided them with a reliable list that almost guaranteed that every step would be completed.
A typical scheduling checklist includes the following:
• Analyze each chair’s production against the production goal.
• Generate a list of patients who are one day overdue.
• Analyze patients who typically have a high late arrival or no-show rate.
Similar to using Dr. Gawande’s scrubbing checklist, when checklists like these are implemented in a dental practice, the number of mistakes quickly decline.
We live in a world where we have so much going on that it can be hard to keep up. Checklists can help keep staff members from forgetting steps that can lead to costly mistakes. Excellent systems supported by checklists increase efficiency, decrease stress, and ensure practice success.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental consulting firm. A nationally recognized speaker, Dr. Levin presents practice management seminars throughout the country.