Staying On Time
Your first patient just called and said they are going to be late because of a car accident on the way to your practice. The patient in this scenario comes from quite far away, has referred a lot of patients to your practice and has many family members who also come to you. To turn them away when they worked so hard at getting there would not be recommended, as this could lead to the loss of quite a few current patients. Or perhaps you are running late with your first patient of the morning and you have a very busy schedule. Regardless of the reason, if you don’t plan ahead you are going to be late for your next patient, which will throw off the entire morning schedule.
Your patient is due for a full mouth series of x-rays and a periodic exam. They are on a three-month periodontal maintenance plan and have had many restorative and periodontal issues in the past, so you hate to skip the x-rays today. Telling the next patient why you are running late does not help. Everyone has excuses and patients plan their schedules based on getting out of the dentist at a certain time. No matter how much a patient loves you or the practice, they do not want to hear your excuses. The best thing you can do is look at how you can make your schedule come back together as quickly as possible.
So, you go ahead and set up the panorex machine. If possible, inform the assistant and doctor that your patient is going to be late or that you are running late. Have your room set up as much as you can without the actual patient being in the chair and have all of the notes ready to go. Ask one of your team members if they are willing to take care of the panorex machine and cleaning it when you are done, so you are able to take the panorex and walk away in order to get the bitewing x-rays.
While you are taking x-rays, there is no reason why you can’t ask the patient, “What problems or concerns do you have with your teeth?” You should have already reviewed their health history before the patient came into your room, and you may be able to update it while you are taking x-rays as long as it is not overly involved.
Now that you are done with the x-rays, you will want to start immediately. But wait, the patient now requests that you get them numb in #2, #3, #14 and #15 because those teeth are sensitive to scaling. So you get the proper materials to get them numb.
At this point you should consider what you may or may not do to bide some time. If you are considering that you may not probe at this visit, don’t say this to the patient until you know for sure. You may not know until the end of the appointment, and you may have to be flexible with the order in which you do things. Look at your next patient and see if they need x-rays. If they do, see if there is another team member who may be able to get those for you, and possibly have the doctor do the exam before the patient is even in the hygiene chair.
The handoff from assistant to hygienist is crucial, especially if the patient has treatment pending or there has been new treatment diagnosed by the doctor. Make sure you have all of the information necessary to go over treatment that was recommended and answer any questions they may have.
Another thing that may help you get back on schedule quickly is to move the patient for the periodic exam and actually have the doctor do the exam at the end of the appointment rather than during the hygiene appointment. It is also important that patients are scheduled properly and for the amount of time requested for the appointment.
As we all know, when you are running late, a minute here and a minute there adds up to five or ten minutes in no time at all. It’s not just the patient in your chair that you are concerned about, but every patient after that who may have to wait for their appointment, and may decide while waiting that this is the last time they will be waiting at your practice.
Planning ahead and good time management skills are imperative in a successful dental practice. What looks great on paper does not always work perfectly in our operatories. Getting into the habit of squeezing one more patient in is not worth the patients you may lose. When patients walk in the door, they are very in-tune with the way an office feels. They know when they are being well taken care of with the time needed to provide not only quality of care but also great customer service. Don’t think you are fooling anybody if your office runs on chaos.
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