Too often dentists and their teams are stealing minutes here, working on borrowed time there, and constantly feeling that when it comes to the sands in the hour glass, there are never enough. Tensions are high, tempers are short, and in spite of the persistent sense of busyness, production continues to lag
and profits don't measure up. So how do you make time your opportunity to seize rather than your obstacle to overcome?
First, consider what will make you happy. In other words how much does the practice need to produce to meet your needs and wants – i.e. financial goals? How many hours per day and days per week do you want to work? How much vacation time do you want to take? How much do you need to pay your staff and yourself, the mortgage, utility bill, etc. Identifying your practice's financial demands and objectives enables you and your team to understand the importance of scheduling to meet daily production goals. It provides the Scheduling Coordinator with clear scheduling objectives, and it allows you, the doctor, to focus on diagnosing the best dentistry for patients.
Second, don't leave the schedule to creative interpretation. Scheduling time should be communicated clearly to the Scheduling Coordinator. This basic, yet commonly overlooked, detail ensures the person in charge of making or breaking your day isn't forced to guess how much time a procedure will require.
For example, the doctor examines a hygiene patient and determines she needs three fillings. The doctor tells the Hygienist exactly how much time is necessary. The Hygienist, in turn, communicates to the Scheduling Coordinator via computer or route slip specifically how much doctor time and assistant time to book. The doctor's time should be scheduled in one color on the computer and the assistant's in another. This simple strategy ensures that the doctor is not double-booked.
In addition, the doctor should never be scheduled out more than three weeks, so curb the urge to schedule all of the appointments for large treatment plans immediately. Scheduling the entire plan can overwhelm both the patient and the schedule. Worse yet, “bread and butter” patients often are forced to wait several weeks for routine procedures – not something that many of them will accept on a regular basis.
Third, maximize your time, your talent, and your staff. Give your employees the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Provide necessary training to prepare your staff to perform procedures that they are legally allowed to carry out in your practice. If you do not have the confidence that your assistant or other team member can handle the additional responsibility, even with proper training, then she/he should be replaced. They are holding you and your team back – plain and simple.
Fourth, keep communications flowing between the clinical staff and business employees throughout the day. Start by reviewing the schedule as a team first thing during the huddle. The clinical staff can advise the Scheduling Coordinator where to place any emergency patients. If there are cancellations, the team can discuss which hygiene patients may be able to receive immediate treatment and which restorative patients may be able to be worked into any openings in the oral hygiene schedule. The dental assistant also can review specifically what procedures are scheduled and set up the treatment rooms accordingly.
Fifth, avoid the tendency to engage in “wishful scheduling” in which more time is reserved for the doctor's “ideal” treatments than the practice has a history of delivering. Rather, calculate the number of crown and bridge units – or other procedures – over the last six months and divide by the number of days worked. Then you can reserve time in the schedule based on the number of units actually performed.
Sixth, don't lie to prospective patients. If you say you are accepting new patients, make sure there is room in the schedule to accommodate them. Look at new patient activity over the last six months. If you saw 60 new patients, that would be 10 per month and 2.5 per week. Reserve at least that much time in your schedule to handle immediate new patient demand . Remember, new patient slots should always be reserved during prime time.
Institute this six-step process and start scheduling to be productive, not just busy.
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