Without proper dental scheduling, there are many ways that time can be wasted in a busy clinic. And when time is lost, revenue and morale take a hit too.
A full schedule does not always translate to productivity and profitability. The goal of an efficient schedule is to run your dental clinic smarter not harder, maximizing time and revenue. A well-managed appointment scheduling system allows you to anticipate, prevent, and react to unexpected changes while minimizing the impact to both your team and patients.
Everybody suffers with an ill-managed schedule:
- Patients are kept waiting when appointments are overbooked or lagging behind
- Potential revenue is lost when appointments are under-booked
- Dentists are burnt out when there is no balance between types of appointments
- The team feels stressed and overworked when they’re behind schedule
The role of a dental scheduler is not an easy one but we’ve got four dental scheduling tips that will help you avoid the problems above, run an efficient schedule, and optimize your clinic to its fullest potential.
Dental scheduling tip #1: Set goals for your clinic
Your dental clinic is a business like any other. Before you delve into the nitty-gritty of day-to-day scheduling, take a step back and look at the whole picture.
Ask yourself what is it that you’re trying to accomplish; it will help you set a production goal for your dental scheduling.
To create a profitable schedule, work backwards:
- Determine how much profit you want to make in a year,
- Then translate that to a monthly goal,
- And get your daily average production goal by dividing your monthly goal by the total number of working days in a month.
This gives you an idea of how much production you should aim for in a day. Use this goal as you schedule a mix of routine and complex appointments. However, remember to be mindful of available resources, which leads us to our next tip.[Keep track of your goals easily using ClearDent analytics, aka ClearInsight – book a demo today to learn more]
Dental scheduling tip #2: Schedule dental appointments strategically
When scheduling appointments, you have to consider factors such as available time slots, types of procedures, cancellations, and much more to ensure the mental, emotional, and financial health of your dental clinic and team. Use these tactics to strategically schedule appointments:
1) Organize your daily schedule in blocks to accomplish your goals
Designate time blocks for different types of procedures, such as:
- Routine procedures: cleanings
- High-ticket procedures: root canals, periodontal surgery, crowns, bridges
- New patient appointments: consultations
Determine how long procedures take by timing each accurately for the most common length. Don’t forget to factor in time for the anesthetist, hygienist, and dental assistant. This exercise will give you a good idea of the average time needed for each procedure.
For example, complex restorative procedures can sometimes require 2 hours or even more. While on the other hand, new patient consultations don’t require as much time but are equally as important. You need to allocate enough time to a first appointment so the team can make a good first impression and build a relationship with the patient – new business is critical to growth.
For longer procedures, consider blocking off a specific time slot for that type of procedure each month so when a patient wants to book a longer procedure, there’s an appointment available.
Set up your schedule with blocks dedicated to each type of appointment in a way that helps you reach your production goal. Complexity and time involved for each procedure are both useful to know when scheduling appointments so that you can make sure to properly block off enough time for the procedure, as well as to let patients know how much time they need to take out of their schedule.
2) Stagger the schedule
Creating an effective schedule is almost like a puzzle. When scheduling appointments, always keep your team in mind. Complicated procedures can be mentally and physically draining for both dentists and dental assistants. Schedule procedures in a way that gives dentists and assistants some buffer time to recover by alternating routine and complex procedures.
3) Maximize the team’s time
Avoid dental assistants waiting for the dentist by scheduling their tasks separately. This way, both dental assistants and dentists can perform tasks concurrently, maximizing everyone’s time. In addition, try to schedule appointments so that the dentist is able to use at least two chairs at any given time, rotating between the patients.
Dental scheduling tip #3: Set up proper clinic practices
There are certain procedures you should have in place that allow you to organize your schedule more efficiently.
Keep detailed notes on your patients
Some appointments require more time depending on the patient, and detailed notes can help you plan for that. For example, a dental cleaning will take longer on someone with gum disease than one that does not or certain patients may be chatty, while others just want to get in and out. Maintaining notes about patients’ preferences and history can help you properly schedule sufficient time for each.
Automate patient recalls
Ensuring your patients return for regular check-ups helps keep your schedule populated. Using an automated patient recall system takes the onus off of you to keep track of when it’s time to reach you. You can set up reminders in the form of email, text, or phone call that automatically go out letting them know it’s time to reschedule.
Dental scheduling tip #4: Minimize patient cancellations
No-shows and last-minute cancellations are an unfortunate but inevitable part of running a dental clinic. However, there are ways to minimize its impact.
Send appointment reminders
Considering appointments are often made weeks, even months, in advance, relying on patients to remember their appointments is likely to lead to many unnecessary cancellations. Prevent this by sending reminders a couple weeks before the appointment date, asking patients to confirm the appointment and allowing them to reschedule if the time no longer works for them. Follow up with another reminder within 24 hours of the appointment if they haven’t confirmed.
These days, many dental solutions have patient communication tools that not only sends these appointment reminders automatically but allow you to communicate with your patients through their preferred method of contact, whether it’s by email or text.
Have an on-call list
A patient waiting list can help you fill gaps that last minute cancellations create in the schedule. There are a number of dental systems that help you maintain online waiting lists. These allow you to send out a mass notification of an opening to patients on that list, rather than having to go down the list and call each person. This instant communication significantly increases your chances of filling the slot.
Creating an efficient appointment scheduling system is a fine art, requiring carefully honed skills over time. These tips will help you schedule effectively and run a well-optimized dental clinic.