This year has been full of challenges and now we are six months into our “new normal” but your schedule may be showing signs from the shutdown. Brainstorming brought me back to my scheduling days when I was on the front line and was the one-person responsible for how the day flowed, how the production was strategically placed, and ultimately, how successful the practice was. If I was not in complete control of the schedule and the patients and how they were placed on the schedule, the entire day could turn into chaos and that is when our providers would use the term burnout.
Coming back from a long hiatus like the COVID-19 shutdown allows you to put into place new scheduling strategies. This is especially true for the hygiene department because their schedule may be empty six months out from when you were out of the office. I would like to share with you 4 strategies on how you can take control of your schedule with practical solutions.
The 1st strategy is to Know What You Can Produce. It is unreasonable even in a DSO to have an associate doctor that has two columns and one column has a lengthy crown appointment and then there are five appointments in the other column next to the crown patient. Not to mention, the doctor will have many hygiene evaluations during this two-hour crown prep appointment. This is enough to burn any new doctor out within two years. Other than the sheer volume of patients, the reason this is unacceptable is that the patient who has accepted treatment for the crown, scheduled the appointment, and shown up on time is being pushed back and avoided as the doctor is checking all the other patients, adjusting bites, delivering crowns, placing fillings, etc. Determine how long it takes for the doctor to complete a crown procedure then seat the patient, treat them like they are the only patient in the practice, and use a buffered anesthetic, like Onset so the doctor doesn’t have to leave the patient.
Your patient who is paying a substantial amount of money will feel like they got their “monies worth” and will kindly refer to others instead of writing a horrible review about how you left her waiting in the chair for two hours while she heard you taking care of other patients. Know what you can produce and when you can’t double book. If you are having to overbook your providers, or you are having to schedule your patients weeks out from now, please tell someone so changes with the schedule can be discussed. This is an indication that more providers are necessary, expansions need to happen, or additional locations need to be constructed. You could be the hero instead of the zero for making your patients upset.
The 2nd strategy is to Review the last 6 Months of Hygiene Patients and Ensure they are all Scheduled. The COVID-19 shutdown seemed to get everyone’s hygiene retention off schedule. When I pull hygiene retention reports, I am finding there are many more than usual hygiene patients who are outstanding for a cleaning. You may see that September and October are probably empty unless someone on your team has been proactive.
Please note: if you already have a full hygiene schedule (128 patients per full-time hygienist – 4 days) and you still have more than ½ the monthly number of patients (64 patients) who still need to be scheduled, then you have a capacity issue and need to offer a solution to increase the time available in hygiene. Please do not ignore this fact as this is considered a ceiling in your practice.
The 3rd strategy is to have a Solid System in place for Patients who Break or Cancel their Appointments. I do not recommend charging patients for this inconvenience to your team. This typically drives the patients in the other direction and makes them feel as if they are not appreciated as a patient, and they will find another dentist. Instead, I would recommend adopting a plan among the team members to make it more difficult for the patients to cancel or break their appointment. Don’t let the patient think it is “OK” to cancel their appointment when they call.
Ask them if there is anything they can do to be there because you have saved this time for them and it would be difficult to fill the appointment at the last minute. Surprisingly, many patients do understand, especially when you tell them your next appointment is more than 6-8 weeks in the future. This system has completely changed how practices operate and how patients respect the time of the doctors and the team.
The 4th and last strategy to enhance your scheduling efficiency is to Ensure Proper Financial Arrangements have been made with the Patient Before the Appointment is Scheduled. Too many times business team members are either uncertain how to present the financial information to the patient, or they do not want to share something that could potentially lead to a negative discussion. Ultimately, this leads to a patient who is misinformed about the decision, and a business team member who will probably just let the patient walk out the door at the next appointment and not collect any co-insurance or co-payment for the treatment. This leads to a very inefficient business team when you have to run accounts receivable reports and follow up with these patients. Also, many times, the patient may call back after they are appointed for the treatment and ask how much the treatment is going to cost. Instead of discussing the financial commitment for treatment and making a payment plan, the business team member just answers the question.
Not discussing the financial investment of the treatment could lead to the patient’s inability to pay and not showing for the pre-scheduled treatment appointment. None of these situations is a win for the practice. However, if you follow these 4 practical solutions to enhance your scheduling efficiency, you are more likely to have fewer changes with your schedule, your patients, your treatment, and your team members.