Scheduling, Part 3

June 1, 2003
How are you doing with your scheduling so far? Have you implemented or refined all eight of the scheduling strategies I have outlined for you so far?

Cathy Jameson, PhD

How are you doing with your scheduling so far? Have you implemented or refined all eight of the scheduling strategies I have outlined for you so far? I hope that you are seeing your days become more productive, more profitable, and less stressful.

Many of you have great practices that are thriving. Your problem — which is a good problem to have — is that you are too busy. Some of you may want to build the cosmetic or the comprehensive restorative aspect of your practice, but you are scheduled out so far that it is difficult to see your patients in an expedient fashion. There is risk here. If patients accept treatment and that treatment is delayed for very long, they could change their minds about having the work done.

Here are some directives and recommendations for those of you who are booked out too far:

1 Reserve time for long appointments each week. Then, engineer those patients requiring extensive treatment time into those time frames. When you cannot see a patient for a long appointment for three to four weeks, increase the number of long appointment times in your appointment book.

Hold these appointments for about a week in advance. If you have not filled these long, reserved appointments, let them go one week out and fill them with other types of treatment. By doing this, you satisfy the need to have available time slots for your long appointments, but you don't end up with wide open gaps in your schedule.

If you are worried about reserving long appointments for patients out of fear that they will not show up or will cancel at the last minute, change the way you are arranging treatment financing. Collect the fee up front before treatment begins. Or, collect half of the fee at the time you reserve the appointment space and the other half at the first appointment. You will reduce no- shows and broken appointments, as well as alleviate your fear of scheduling long appointments.

2 Charge enough to make sure that you can reserve a long appointment for a patient without feeling you have to be scheduled with other patients at the same time to cover your overhead. You cannot give the necessary time and attention to these long, extensive cases if you are pulled in too many directions and interrupted throughout the appointment.

3 Carefully engineer your hygienic evaluations to support your long, uninterruptible appointments. For example, if you are doing a three-hour cosmetic procedure, you might set up your hygiene schedule as follows:

a. adult prophylaxis
b. periodontal appointment
c. adult prophylaxis

You could provide your evaluation at the beginning of the first hygiene appointment. Then an evaluation would not be needed at the second appointment or it could be performed at the end of the third hygiene appointment. By scheduling this way and limiting the time needed for doctor hygiene evaluations, you would have approximately 2 1/2 hours of uninterrupted treatment time.

You do not have to see numerous patients to be productive or to be profitable. You can see a few patients per day — doing more dentistry per patient — see those patients for fewer visits, and your practice will be more profitable than ever before. However, you must make sure that your appointment book and the way you are scheduling supports this "model."

The scheduling system of your practice is one of the most difficult and challenging of all your management systems. It will continually need refinement, care, attention, and diligent effort if it is to support you on your way to your ideal practice.

Cathy Jameson, PhD, is president of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental lecture and consulting firm. She has been a featured speaker for the major dental meetings throughout the world and is an adjunct faculty member of the Oklahoma University School of Dentistry and an associate professor at the NYU College of Dentistry. Her books, Great Communication = Great Production and Collect What You Produce are top sellers for PennWell Books. Contact Dr. Jameson at (580) 369-5555, or email cathy@jamesonmanage

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