As the owner of your own practice, you already know that success involves more than clinical skill. While your patients’ health and satisfaction are, of course, the top priorities, even the world’s best training and techniques will get you nowhere if you do not possess superior time management skills. In addition to diagnosis and treatment, you also have to think about hiring, managing your employees, marketing, scheduling, and so much more. When coaching a dentist, I always encourage him or her to set goals regarding efficiency and scheduling. When you have definite objectives for your practice, it is much easier to keep patients happy and to keep things running smoothly.
Streamlining Business Practices
The first thing you need to do is really look at your business practices. Identify the biggest time wasters. Email is a big one. Sure, you want to stay on top of important communications, but, as you know, time on the computer has a snowball effect. You check one email, and the next thing you know 45 minutes have gone by. Set aside time strictly for email, message boards, checking your favorite dental blogs, etc. Try making time before your first appointment, or take 20 minutes after lunch to check your inbox and regroup. (Try not to look at your email during lunch. That thirty minutes of downtime is immensely important to your own well-being and that of your patients.)
Budget Your Time
Once you have identified the areas where you waste the most time, you can take steps to de-clutter your day. Make a to-do list. It’s a simple tip, but one that frequently gets overlooked. Make sure to put the tasks that you dislike the most near the top of the list, and don’t allow yourself to move on until they are finished. At the same time, be sure to build extra time into your schedule. As we all know, things always take longer than you think. When you go into your day with this knowledge, you are less likely to feel harried. In turn, things may actually move faster, and you will have more time for those little tasks that always seem to go undone.
Make Use of Your Staff
When creating your schedule, remember, you do not have to do this on your own. In my experience, dentists often agonize when it is time to hire a new assistant, hygienist, or office manager. They want the most responsible and efficient person. However, once they’ve hired the new team member, dentists still try to do everything themselves! Let your team do their jobs. You may think, “Oh this will just take five minutes. I’ll do it myself.” Those five minutes can add up fast. Additionally, when you do your staff’s jobs for them, they feel undervalued and take less pleasure in their work. When you hire a new employee, clearly delineate his or her tasks before the interview. Then stick with it.
Patient scheduling is one area where my clients seem particularly overwhelmed. They feel that in many ways, this aspect of the practice is out of their hands. Patients run late, they get sick, they don’t understand a procedure, or they need additional treatment. While these snags may seem unavoidable, intelligent scheduling systems will take the unexpected into account and still make sure that things go smoothly. Making schedule blocks for certain procedures or types of procedures during the day in advance will allow you not only to stay organized, but avoid having to do that molar endo at 4 PM! Ugh! I suggest scheduling your most productive appointments through the morning hours and then your “easier” appointments throughout the afternoon. We are always at our sharpest and our energy level is the highest in the early part of the day. (Ever wonder why surgeons scheduled their surgeries in the morning?). Block time on your schedule for “urgent” or emergency visits so that the person scheduling that appointment doesn’t put it in the middle of your morning, potentially wreaking havoc on your day.