Tips to maximize your schedule

Sept. 1, 2006
How do you reach your practice potential? One way is to update your management systems.

How do you reach your practice potential?One way is to update your management systems. As your practice grows, your systems must grow with you. One of the biggest roadblocks to continued growth is outdated systems. For example, a scheduling system which supports a $500,000 practice may not be able to support one that generates $750,000 or $1 million annually. Just as you wouldn’t put a lawnmower engine in a race car, you shouldn’t use a low-production schedule to run a high-production practice.

Here are six tips for upgrading your scheduling system:

1. Use 10-minute units.

Many practices still use 15-minute as opposed to 10-minute increments in their scheduling systems. This alone costs the practice seven days of production time every year. If a practice has the goal of $3,000 of dentistry daily, that lost production equals $21,000 of lost revenue. Over a 20-year career, that is $400,000 in lost production. By scheduling in 10-minute units, doctors do not have to work harder to compensate for lost time and will likely be able to retire at an earlier age.

2. Schedule for production.

Leave time in the schedule for more comprehensive cosmetic and elective dentistry. Analyze the financial key performance indicators in your practice and choose a daily production goal you can attain. With that goal in mind, schedule so that you are within 10 percent of that goal every day. Practices that focus on expanding cosmetic and comprehensive dentistry have higher profit margins, higher production, and higher satisfaction, all with a lower volume of patients.

3. Reduce no-shows and cancellations.

Build value for each appointment. Make sure patients know their appointment time has been specially reserved for them. Let them know the practice scheduled their appointment to ensure they receive the highest quality care possible in a timely manner. Patients need to understand it is impossible to fill that time if they do not show up. Use effective verbal skills and scripting to help your staff explain the importance of this time. Call patients 48 hours before their appointment to remind them of the importance of the appointment.

4. Schedule auxiliary services separately.

Many dental assistants spend a lot of time waiting for or watching the doctor. By scheduling dental assistant time separately, this team member can be more effective and efficient by engaging in highly productive treatment-related activities. This helps the patient progress more quickly toward completing dental treatment and takes a great deal of stress off the dentist. It also allows the practice to significantly increase production.

5. Perform annual procedural time studies.

Procedural time studies document exactly how much time a dentist or team member needs to perform a specific dental procedure. Not all services should be studied, just the most commonly performed ones. Procedural time studies are accomplished by:

Identifying the services that equal 80 percent of all scheduled production. These generally would include high-production procedures such as crowns, bridges, implants, and veneers. Timing each service the next 10 times it is performed. Track time needed for each procedure separately for the doctor and the clinical assistant. Totaling the 10 timed observations and divide by 10 to determine an average from these services. This average documents the amount of doctor and clinical assistant time needed for each procedure. A standard deviation of approximately 10 percent is acceptable. Revising the schedule and clearly identifying which part of each scheduled procedure represents doctor time, doctor and assistant time together, and assistant time only.Tracking carefully to ensure all appointments are within 10 minutes of the appointment time, because lateness is not only poor customer service, but also an indication of a scheduling problem that will lead to lower production.6. Schedule on a per-chair basis.Each dental chair represents potential production. When evaluating the schedule, look at each dental chair as an opportunity. For example, the dentist should use at least two chairs, effectively rotating between patients. Once both chairs are filled at the proper level, having two assistants for the two main chairs will allow the practice to grow.Levin Group recommends that dentists have at least one additional chair that produces at 50 to 60 percent of the first two chairs. Not only will this significantly enhance production, it will allow for flexibility in emergency scheduling, minor procedures, delays, late patients, and other unexpected scenarios. The addition of one extra chair offers flexibility and can be a tremendous asset to any dental practice.Practice snapshotA poor scheduling system can make everyone on the team, including the doctor, dread coming to work every day. Here’s a quick snapshot of the chaos that can ensue when the schedule isn’t working:It’s a situation I have seen time and time again in practices throughout the country. The practice is always running behind. Patients are upset. Team members are stressed out and working late. The doctor and the team are putting in 10-hour days trying to keep up. But it was impossible to keep up because the practice didn’t have a scheduling system.The practice’s approach to scheduling was more about filling holes than creating a mechanism for driving production. “We were blocking time, but we were blocking incorrectly,” said the hygienist. “We were working harder, but not being productive.”The practice implemented daily morning meetings to get everyone focused on daily goals. “We now schedule morning meetings and that has made a huge difference on how the day is run and in reducing the stress level,” said the dentist. A new mathematically designed schedule, along with better communication and a renewed focus on customer service, has resulted in happier patients, increased production, and less stress for the team. Most importantly, the practice ends the day on time - not two hours later!SummaryThe schedule affects almost every aspect of practice operations. An inefficient schedule leads to frustrated patients and overstressed team members, as the case study indicates. These six steps can help you redesign your schedule for maximum efficiency. A more efficient schedule is critical to increasing production, productivity, and profitability.For excerpts from Levin Group’s “Efficient Scheduling” book, call (888) 973-0000 or e-mail contact information to [email protected]. Put “Efficient Scheduling” in the subject line.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of services and solutions. Since the company’s inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973-0000, or at www.levingroup.com.

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