How to Fix Your Schedule
You’re finally ready to admit it. Your schedule is a mess, and it’s causing you and your team members nothing but stress and frustration. Yes, you know it’s time to make some changes to streamline your schedule and finally meet production goals, but if you’re like most dentists, you have no idea where to start. Don’t worry, that’s where I come in. I’ve been a dental consultant for more than 30 years, and I know what it takes to turn a chaotic schedule into a productive schedule.
Hire a Scheduling Coordinator. If you have multiple team members scheduling patients, it’s no wonder your schedule is a mess. While you might like the idea of cross training your team, they can’t all have their hands in your schedule. This will just lead to confusion and frustration, not to mention chaotic days filled with inaccurate procedure times, double bookings and broken appointments.
Instead of expecting multiple team members to manage your schedule, hire a Scheduling Coordinator who understands the importance of scheduling your days to meet production goals. If your Scheduling Coordinator is simply focused on keeping you busy, I can guarantee your schedule is a mess and your bottom line is suffering. Give this team member the tools and training needed to succeed – which includes a detailed job description and clear direction from you.
Train your Scheduling Coordinator to confirm every appointment, using each patient’s preferred method of communication, and put a plan in place to handle broken appointments. Truly make this person accountable for the schedule, and your days will finally become more streamlined and stress-free.
Communicate procedure times. You don’t want your Scheduling Coordinator randomly scheduling 60 minute appointments here and 90 minute appointments there, but that’s exactly what will happen if you don’t communicate. Trust me, leaving your Scheduling Coordinator to play the guessing game will only lead to headache and stress.
Tell your Scheduling Coordinator exactly how much time you and your assistant need for every procedure. Your coordinator should mark the procedure in the schedule using different colors for you and your assistant. This will help make sure you’re never double-booked, while also ensuring you have enough time to provide every patient with the best care possible.
Stop scheduling dream days. You love performing crown and bridge work, so you tell your Scheduling Coordinator to block out a certain number of those appointments per day. The problem? You don’t have enough crown and bridge patients to fill the open slots, turning these so-called dream days into nightmares.
Before you block out sections of your schedule for specific procedures, you must determine how many patients will actually take those appointment times. Be realistic and base that number on historical data, not the number you wish your practice could reach.
How can you determine this number? Calculate how many crown and bridge procedures you’ve completed in the last six months, then divide that number by the number of days worked. This will tell you how many spots you can reserve for that procedure. This number might not be exact, but it will get you much closer to patient demand than simply basing the number on what you’d like to see your practice achieve.
Don’t rely on pre-appointing alone. If you’re like most dentists, you’ve probably scheduled patients six months out for years. It might be time to consider a new approach. Why? This outdated practice could be costing you thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
Most patients don’t know what they’re doing six months from now at 10 a.m., which means they have no idea if they can actually make the appointment they just scheduled with your office. Six months go by and they either forget about the appointment or decide they have more important tasks to complete that day, and they simply don’t show up. That leaves you with last-minute holes to fill, and lost revenue if you can’t fill them.
Not only that, when new patients call to schedule an appointment, your coordinator often can’t get them in to see the doctor for four, five or even six weeks. Why? The schedule is “full” of pre-appointed patients who are likely to cancel at the last minute or not show up at all. Instead of waiting, many of these patients will keep looking for a dentist who can fit them in sooner – and that, dear doctor, is costing you money.
Not ready to give up pre-appointing? Consider developing a hybrid method. Trust me, this will help leave room in your schedule for new patients and patients ready to go forward with treatment, reducing the number of broken appointments your practice deals with each day and increasing your production numbers.
If you want to own a successful dental practice, you have to focus on properly managing your schedule. Make these changes and you’ll not only have a more streamlined, stress-free schedule, you’ll see an increase in practice production numbers and your bottom line.
Need more help? Consider taking my free online Scheduling Assessment.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
Leading your Office Manager Effectively
If you are doing the work of both the Dentist and the Office Manager, you might be inadvertently detracting from the potential effectiveness of both roles. If you have an office manager and you really don’t provide much oversight, figuring, “I handle the back and my office manager handles the front,” you might similarly be setting yourself up for unnecessary challenges. To better manage the management of your practice, here are some things to consider with regard to the office manager role and how it can be carried out more effectively.
1. Don’t allow your manager to ‘manage’ solely from their desk. They should ideally move about frequently to ensure that their staff and the practice are functioning properly. A present and involved office manager, who interacts with the staff, dentist(s) and patients regularly, is vital to maintaining a healthy practice environment. In larger practices, the office manager should primarily do their work at a workstation outside of their office, and use their office for one-on-one staff meetings or employee counseling.
2. Schedule meetings with vendors to benefit the practice. Your manager should ideally be the one scheduling and setting up meetings with representatives, and then reviewing their proposals with the dentist(s). There are many lost opportunities beneficial to dental care and your practice that are never even looked at simply because an office manager is busy with other things, or does not take initiative. Part of the job of an office manager is to find ways to increase revenue and help the dentist(s) provide the best dental care possible. If your office manager avoids opportunities because some sales representatives drive him/her crazy, coach your manager to call their corporate office and ask for a different representative to handle your account.
3. Make sure your office manager lives by and enforces a no-gossip policy. The manager needs to be the one to “set the record straight,” and disseminate information to mitigate the reason why gossip happens to begin with. You will need to ensure your office manager has all the information at their fingertips, and if not, knows where to find it. Share openly and regularly with your manager your thoughts and ideas about where the practice is heading, what are the threats, etc.
4. The manager should understand all aspects of the practice. Have your office manager round on staff and shadow hygienists so they know the work, and could potentially assist as needed. Managers cannot be afraid to get their hands ‘dirty.’ Theoretically, the office manager should know every job function in the office, and therefore be better poised to help or coach when necessary. If the office manager can show interest and curiosity about everyone’s role in the office, they will be considered part of the team, and your practice’s level of cohesiveness will soar. To help facilitate this process, make sure to demonstrate curiosity and interest in your office manager’s job duties, and when you can make the time, consider shadowing her/him so you model the behavior you want your manager to carry out.
5. Does your office manager regularly make time to market your practice? There are numerous avenues for office managers to pursue networking opportunities with other office managers. Many areas have regional clubs and associations that span many specialties. Networking with other office managers allows your manager to market your services, and your practice in general, to other offices. This can also help your manager to learn what is working for other offices, which can directly benefit your office. These groups often offer educational pieces for your managers and other key employees.
6. Your office manager ultimately needs to set a good example. He or she must demonstrate respect, hard work, gratitude, kindness, professional dress, proper work ethic, timeliness, and avoiding unscheduled absences – and the staff will follow these examples. If your office manager struggles with leading by example, you may need to set up regular coaching conversations to help her/him see the necessity and make the appropriate changes.
Overall, there are not any more “lazy” or “disengaged” office managers than there are “lazy” nurses or “lazy” bankers for that matter. Many times it is the perception of “what does he/she do in there all day?” that causes others to assume that a manager is “lazy” or “inept.” This is why connecting yourself as the dentist to the office manager, and partnering to run the practice more efficiently and effectively, is one of your best business strategies. If you have a good handle on what the office manager does on a day-to-day basis, and you both work collaboratively with open communication and mutual curiosity, you will find your staff and patient retention go up, and everyone’s jobs will feel easier.
Dr. Gale provides coaching and training to enhance leadership skills, interpersonal communications and team building. If you would like to learn more, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Treatment Planning Periodontal Disease
“Tom” the patient has not been in your practice for two years. He is scheduled as a comprehensive exam because it has been so long. When he left your practice, he was being maintained on 3-month periodontal maintenance and the tissue looked good, no bleeding upon probing, and very light if any bleeding during instrumentation.
Tom’s health and dental history are reviewed during his appointment. During this review you find out that he had four quadrants of root planing/periodontal therapy at a different office at the beginning of the year. He used the same insurance that he wants to use for treatment in your office.
Full mouth probings are done, and a full mouth set of x-rays from the other practice are available for your viewing. However, they are not the quality of x-ray your office uses when diagnosing patient needs, so you take a new full mouth of x-rays. In the x-rays, you see visible calculus and radiographic bone loss. When the probings are finished, Tom has generalized bleeding upon probing and some of the pocketing has increased. During the probing you can also feel calculus that is present and will need to be debrided. There are 4 and some 5 mm pockets.
In many offices, a full mouth debridement would be performed and the patient would be asked to return for a second appointment. The problem with this is the code for a full mouth debridement is being utilized incorrectly. Is doing a full mouth debridement really providing the quality of care you would like to provide your patients? Offices choose this approach because they are insurance based and have become accustomed to treatment planning according to insurance benefits. You are well aware that most insurance companies will not pay for the root planing your patient is in need of, due to the benefit being used at the beginning of the year.
If Tom is not scheduled in hygiene that day, then he will return for his quadrants, and it is up to the clinician who treatment planned the quadrants to review why he is in need of this. It is up to the financial person in your office to work with Tom on making the treatment affordable, possibly opening up a CareCredit account as he will be paying out of his own pocket with no help from insurance.
Regardless of what insurance will (or will not) pay, patients have the right to know what is recommended as optimal care. They should also be informed of other options and the results that may be achieved from each. It is not our place to treatment plan according to insurance benefits when the patient needs specific treatment.
Your patients expect you to inform them about what is recommended, regardless of insurance benefits. As long as we inform them of all their options, we have done our job. However, it is the patient’s right to remain sick or diseased based on the information they are given. So when a patient like Tom shows up on your schedule, it is recommended that you treatment plan for what you see, and not what insurance is going to cover.
Interested in improving your hygiene department? Email email@example.com and ask us about our 1-Day Hygiene Training Program or call 877-777-6151
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