Scheduling strategies for success

June 25, 2013

by Lois Banta

The schedule is the core of a successful practice. Everything is affected by it. It can also be the source of great stress. You've seen it many times -- a backed up schedule can cause a practice to run behind schedule, patients will cancel and fail, and there can be unexpected surprises in planned dentistry. All of these scenarios can be the cause of major frustration. I've said this many times in my lectures -- no plan is as effective as the back-up plan. What I mean is, plan for the unexpected so when the unexpected happens, there is another plan waiting in the wings.

This article will outline the strategies to assist the dental practice in handling the unexpected, and in building a foolproof plan for a successfully choreographed day.

  1. Time your procedures for each section of the appointment -- anesthetic time, doctor time, and assistant time. This allows the practice to record a template of average time needed for specific appointments.
  2. Preblock the schedule for specific appointment types such as crown and bridge, root canals, CEREC procedures, SRP, perio maintenance, and new patients.
  3. Train the team on correct verbal skills to guide patients toward the ideal appointment times.
  4. Don't ask yes or no questions
  5. Always offer two options. An example -- “Mr. Patient, Dr. XYZ does these procedures in the morning. The next two appointments I have available are Monday at 8 a.m. or Wednesday at 10 a.m. Which one works best for you?”
  6. Be concerned when patients contact the practice to cancel their appointment. Offer solutions to help them keep their appointment.
  7. If a patient does cancel their appointment, never offer them the next available appointment. Instead, offer them an appointment in three to four weeks, and then offer to place them on the practice priority list should you receive a cancellation sooner.
  8. Keep a priority list of patients who have appointments scheduled, and who have offered to come in sooner if the practice has an appointment become available.
  9. Know your toleration level when it is time to release a patient from the practice. Typically, a practice should have a three strikes (cancels or failures) guideline -- three missed appointments in a row and the patient is released from the practice. Legally, the practice is required to offer emergency care for 30 days, so I recommend including a date and time 30 days from sending the letter where the patient is no longer considered to be in the practice.
  10. Pay attention to goals and schedule accordingly.
  11. Decide which column to schedule new patients in. Some options are to schedule them in the doctor's second column or in hygiene. I typically do not recommend the patient have a prophylaxis on the same date as his or her new patient exam. This is a diagnosed procedure and the patient is new to the practice, so you don't know the status of his or her periodontal health. Explaining this to the patient can be a bit tricky to navigate, especially if the patient has had his or her teeth cleaned on the same day in other practices. It may help to explain that a professional cleaning (prophylaxis) is a procedure that must be diagnosed for patients so as not to shortchange them on the amount of time needed. Additionally, if a patient insists, offer to try to schedule a prophylaxis on the same day, but don't promise. Reserve the right to add a second appointment.

Creating scheduling strategies allows a practice to avoid unexpected surprises. Maintaining predictable flows in the schedule maintains good and consistent productivity. Combining good communication skills with efficient planning allows for team success and great predictable outcomes for the patient.

Lois Banta is CEO and founder of Banta Consulting, Inc., established in 2000. She is also the owner and CEO of The Speaking Consulting Network. Banta Consulting specializes in all aspects of dental practice management. Lois has over 37 years of dental experience. To contact her for a personal consultation or to invite her to speak to your organization, call 816-847-2055, write her at 33010 NE Pink Hill Rd, Grain Valley, MO 64029, email [email protected], or visit her website at

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