Help Your New Scheduling Coordinator Excel
You’ve had enough. Your schedule is a mess, you’re not meeting production goals and everyone on your team is stressed out. It’s clear you need to hire a Scheduling Coordinator who can streamline your days and bring order to your practice – and you can’t wait for this new employee to get started.
That’s great, but simply hiring a Scheduling Coordinator won’t solve all your problems. You have to set this team member up for success. No matter how much experience the new hire has, you can’t expect him or her to read your mind. Make your expectations clear from the beginning and empower your coordinator to take complete control of the schedule. Remember, this will now be the only person in charge of scheduling your days, so you need to be sure you hire the right person and provide the tools needed for success.
Ready to hire a Scheduling Coordinator? Here’s how to get the most out of this new team member.
Provide a detailed job description. This is important for everyone you hire, not just your Scheduling Coordinator. Job descriptions provide a roadmap for success; team members often feel lost without them. Make sure your Scheduling Coordinator’s job description clearly outlines job duties, your expectations and performance measurements.
Offer proper training. This should go without saying, but dentists often convince themselves they can skip detailed training. They decide it takes too much time and costs too much money, and the new hire can easily learn on the job. Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually work out, leading to extra stress for the employee and the rest of the team.
Your Scheduling Coordinator should be trained to schedule you to meet daily production goals, not just keep you busy. Don’t have daily production goals? Let’s fix that. Sit down with team members to determine how much money you need to make to meet personal and professional goals. Factor in practice overhead costs as well as how many hours a week you’re willing to work to meet those goals. The number you get should dictate your schedule.
It’s also important to train your Scheduling Coordinator to confirm every appointment. This will help reduce the number of cancellations and no-shows your office deals with each day (and all the headaches they come with).
Have your coordinator contact patients two days before they’re scheduled to come in either by phone call, text message or email (whatever the patient prefers). Make sure your coordinator understands that leaving a voicemail isn’t enough when reaching out to patients who prefer phone calls. Be sure to actually speak with patients to confirm they’re coming in for their appointment.
Give feedback. If your Scheduling Coordinator could improve telephone skills or isn’t scheduling your hygienist correctly, don’t ignore these issues and hope they’ll go away. Instead, offer constructive feedback and additional training if necessary. Your coordinator will become more confident as well as more effective.
Communicate procedure times. This goes back to the fact that your Scheduling Coordinator isn’t a minder reader (though wouldn’t that be great!). If you don’t communicate how long procedures last, your coordinator will have to guess. That means there’s a good chance you’ll be booked for 30-minute appointments that actually take 60-minutes, and vice versa – leading to a lot of extra stress in your day.
To avoid this scheduling nightmare, make sure your coordinator knows exactly how much time it will take for you and the assistant to complete a procedure. When marking times in the schedule, the coordinator should use one color for you and a different color for the assistant. Why? This will reduce the chance of you being double-booked. It also helps ensure you are scheduled for the right amount of time with every patient. You won’t have to worry about playing catch-up because you’ve fallen behind, making it easier to focus on your patients and provide the best care possible.
Stop relying on pre-appointing alone. Why? It gives the illusion your schedule is full, and your Scheduling Coordinator will have to tell potential new patients they can’t see the doctor for weeks, even months – which isn’t exactly what they want to hear when calling your practice for the first time.
Leave room in your schedule for new patients. If you don’t, they’ll think you don’t value their business and won’t hesitate to call the practice down the street. Look at new patient activity over the last six months to determine how many slots to leave open.
Hiring a Scheduling Coordinator is a great first step to getting your schedule under control. Just remember, this team member needs guidance to be successful. If you provide a detailed job description, offer training and communicate properly, you’ll soon find your days are more streamlined and much less stressful.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Handling Patient Calls
Even in our age of multiple media platforms, most patients reach us by phone when they are ready to schedule an appointment. While many young people prefer texting and internet ordering, they still use the phone for certain types of activities such as medical and dental appointments. This is not to say it isn’t advantageous for an office to have an internet presence that allows for scheduling by email or text, as well as a section allowing for completion of office forms. However, the phone (and the skills of the person who answers it) are still very important.
Most offices have a receptionist/front desk employee who answers the phone, checks out patients, and handles computer scheduling and billing. This person may also prepare and present treatment plans and estimates. This is a busy role. If the phone rings while the front desk person is in the middle of an activity, what happens?
If other staff happen to be at the desk, they may answer the call. If the receptionist is alone, he or she may answer and immediately put the patient on hold. If the office has several incoming lines, there may be multiple people at the desk and multiple lines on hold. A situation like this is very stressful and can result in all people involved feeling rushed and dissatisfied. If new patients are calling, they may just hang up and call another office.
What can we do to streamline front desk and phone activities, reduce the stress and make patients in the office and patients on the phone happy? The key is the “human touch”. For example, there are many credit cards available these days. A popular selling point for one prominent card is that their client’s phone calls are answered by a human being. When “customer service” typically involves a “menu”, being placed on hold for a long time and sometimes even being disconnected, a human voice and a person who can actually help is a huge practice builder.
Most offices have a portion of the day that is busier than others. For example, a general practice may experience more phone calls between 2-4 pm. In-office traffic may also be higher at this time. If possible, schedule another person to back up the front desk during these hours. This person might be a dental assistant or a second staff person who works during these times every day. This should not be a minimally trained individual or “temp”, but a dedicated team member. The goal should be having the phone answered by a competent person within the first three rings. This person should be able to take care of most issues and scheduling, and satisfy the patient’s needs right away.
If having a dedicated second person during busy times is not an option, a second choice might be for the front desk person to answer all calls within the prescribed three rings and offer to call the patient back within a certain time period (ideally within 20 minutes). A potential script for this scenario could be: “Dr. Smith’s office, this is Carol. I want to handle your call properly. Our office is very busy at the moment. Would it be possible for me to call you back in 15 minutes?”
If the patient says they prefer to hold, give them that option. Otherwise, be sure to call back when you said you would. While not ideal, this keeps patients from waiting on hold for lengthy periods, which often makes people angry.
If a patient is calling for an emergency, handle them carefully. Emergency patients are not a nuisance! They can be great new patients and additions to the practice. At the beginning of the day, the dentist should identify two possible appointment times, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, where a true emergency can be scheduled today. If the front desk person determines the call is not a true emergency, have a morning and afternoon appointment time designated for the next day that can be offered. Often new patients call for an appointment due to a toothache or other emergency. If we can care for them quickly and effectively, there’s a good chance they will become patients of the office who refer their relatives and friends.
How do we determine what is a true emergency? The front desk person should ask the caller if they are experiencing pain to heat or biting pressure, have broken a tooth, or have swelling, redness, or a feverish feeling to the face. These are often true emergencies and the patient should be offered today’s designated times. If the patient has lost a crown or filling, and is not in pain, this patient should be offered the next day appointments.
New patients who are calling for an exam or exam/prophy should be offered an appointment within the next two weeks. Patients who are told they must wait a long time will often just go somewhere else.
Handling phone calls is an important function for office staff. Taking care of them correctly can ensure that the practice continually grows!
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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