by Louis Malcmacher, DDS, MAGD
For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: Dr. Louis Malcmacher, Common Sense Dentistry, office scheduling, “stay today” philosophy.
For many dentists, 2008 was a very challenging year. There's no question that there's a new reality out there economically, and in order to survive and even thrive, dentists need to rethink their procedure mix as well as the focus of their practices.
Make the most of scheduling
Scheduling is among the most challenging jobs in the dental office, and it's even more challenging today. There have been reports of increases in cancellations, patients putting off elective work, and even patients trying to push off needed treatment as long as possible.
We have never used any kind of block scheduling system in our office. We have one philosophy — get the schedule filled to make the day as productive as possible. The key to a productive schedule is to be flexible.
While you may want to keep some time open for a bigger case, at some point you may realize that it's more important to have any kind of patient in your chair than to have chairs sitting empty because you believe in block scheduling.
The dental office schedule on a day-to-day basis is very dynamic — there are additions and cancellations, and the office needs to be constantly managed. Almost everyone in the office must help manage. While the front office manager is the quarterback of the schedule, the dental assistants, dental hygienists, and especially the dentist need to know where they are in the schedule at any given time.
“Stay today” philosophy
There are many instances where an office may run ahead of schedule and can pull a patient over from hygiene that needs some operative dentistry, or an endo, or a crown. This is called the “stay today” philosophy and is certainly a healthy addition to every schedule.
Don't resign yourself to cancellations in your schedule. If something opens up in hygiene, we ask the patients in our chairs if they are due for a prophylaxis and if they would like to stay to get it done. If some time in the doctor's schedule suddenly appears, we offer the appointments to the hygiene patients if they need treatment, or we call patients in early and try to fill the spot.
Get emergency patients in immediately
When you are in the office, you need to stay as productive as possible. Emergency patients should be told to come in right away. If you want to conduct an interesting experiment, anonymously call 10 dental offices in your area and tell them that you have a dental emergency. I bet that seven out of 10 cannot get you in for an appointment for at least a day.
I have personally made these calls and have had offices tell me that I must wait two weeks for an appointment. I'm always amazed that the most productive dental offices I know can get a new patient or an emergency patient in today, while many low producing offices cannot get a patient in for a week or two.
Make it a live person
In this day and age we can learn a lot from services like 1-800-DENTIST who are professionals at doing this — if someone calls with a dental emergency, tell them to come in right now.
Dentists always wonder why patients call 1-800-DENTIST, and the answer is really simple. They don't get a busy signal and they don't get a voice mail. They get a live, caring person who will take care of their needs promptly and efficiently.
The year 2009 will be a challenging one, that's for sure. We need to meet that challenge head on by changing the way we look at our offices, and especially at our schedules. Downtime is no longer an option, and everyone in the office is responsible for making sure that we all stay as productive as possible.
Dr. Louis Malcmacher is a practicing general dentist and international lecturer, author, and dental consultant known for his comprehensive and entertaining style. Contact him at (440) 892-1810 or send him an e-mail at [email protected]. Go to www.commonsensedentistry.com for more information on his lecture schedule, audio CDs, to download his resource list, and to sign up for a free monthly e-newsletter.