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, if you utilize one. 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 3 – 6 months. Base your goals on your past history over 6 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. Pre-block your schedule… with productive procedures to meet your goals. Pre-block 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 dentist 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 chair time for all procedures. The time should include the real time for your room changeover 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 Ten 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 not there.
- 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, sales people, 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 reschedule regular patients, and run behind are schedule killers. The following are the only emergencies which 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 pre-blocked 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 pre-block time for your new patients. Appoint the non-emergency new patients for the type of appointment they most want-either with the hygienist or with the dentist. Give the patient what they request. New patients need to be seen within 7 – 10 days of their call. If you do not pre-block 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 your request for 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. E-mail, text, call, card. Use one, use all, yet be sure you get reminders out for hygiene two weeks ahead and then 48 hours ahead. There are plenty of electronic contenders 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 NOR “we all do it.” Someone should review the schedule each day in the am and the pm and look one day and one week in advance to see if there are problems. With the advent of computer scheduling in the clinical area and more than one person making appointments, often scheduling is done myopically. The “hawk” takes a long view to see if we are scheduled to goal AND are we 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.